Most stores will close Sunday, as the 33-year-old mall gives way to the open-air Peninsula Town Center.
BY CYNTHIA H. CHO
January 12, 2007
HAMPTON — At Coliseum Mall on Thursday, Norma Reed peered at the miniature model of the Peninsula Town Center, which will replace the mall that would turn 34 years old in October.
Reed, who has been living in Hampton for 40 years, remembers when the mall opened on Halloween in 1973.
“It was bustling,” Reed, 71, said. “Everyone was here. It was beautiful.”
In two days, most of the stores that are still open at the mall will close their doors for the last time. Demolition is scheduled to begin in late February, and construction of the Peninsula Town Center is set to finish in April 2009.
Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Burlington Coat Factory will remain open throughout most of the construction; the latter two will close briefly in order to change locations. The three free-standing restaurants – Steak & Ale, Bennigan’s and Outback Steakhouse -will also remain. A handful of other stores, including Barnes & Noble, Life Uniforms and Lee Nails, will stay open until mid-February.
Declining sales and the growing popularity of outdoor shopping centers were factors in the decision to give Coliseum Mall the $207 million makeover, according to executives at New York-based Mall Properties Inc., which owns the mall.
Retail sales dropped from $142 million in 1999 to $112 million in 2004. In 2005, it declined further to $99 million, in part because some stores didn’t renew their leases and left the mall. According to Ross Mugler, Hampton’s commissioner of revenue, Coliseum Mall made up to 20 percent of the city’s taxable sales in 1992. In 2005, the mall made up about 11 percent.
Local newspapers carried stories about Coliseum Mall starting in 1970, when the city announced the development. A Daily Press article published on July 9, 1970, reported: “Fully enclosed, the center will be 100 percent climate controlled.” When it opened on Oct. 31, 1973, it was the biggest mall on the Peninsula, anchored by three big-name department stores: Korvette, Rices-Nachmans and J.C. Penney. About 50 stores were open on that first day. J.C. Penney is the only original retailer that still exists.
According to a Nov. 1, 1973, Daily Press article, then-mayor David N. Montague said the mall would “bring a depth and diversity to shoppers who previously have turned to out-of-town suppliers for special items.”
The mall was a popular site for community events throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Art competitions, health fairs, bird shows and cake-decorating contests all were held at the mall during its first decade. In March 1978, there was a rock-a-thon – with rocking chairs – to benefit the Hope Haven Children’s Home in Virginia Beach.
It had some rough times, too. There were lawsuits, broken water pipes, power outages and complaints about traffic congestion. And the opening of each stage of development was delayed.
On Thursday the gates were down and the lights were out at many of the mall’s stores. Earlier this week, the mall’s general manager, Raymond Tripp, said 33 of the 100 or so stores were open for business. Tripp has been the mall’s general manager for the last 16 years.
“Every day, it’s less and less,” he said Thursday, walking through the mall.
“It’s kind of like going away to college,” Tripp said of the mall closing. “You leave behind a lot of good friends, good memories. You’re excited about where you’re going, but nervous.”
Many of the stores at the mall were offering steep discounts to move their remaining inventories.
“Some people say this is eerie-looking,” Tripp said, passing by a row of empty stores. At best, there were a handful of shoppers at any given store on Thursday.
Reed, the 71-year-old Hampton resident, felt a little nostalgic. She remembered when the parking lots were full and the mall’s walkways were crowded. “I’m of the older generation so I don’t like change,” she said. “But I know things have to change. And it’s a little sad.”