Brad Berry's Commentary

Posted September 3, 2006 (user submitted)

Azalea Mall opened in 1963 at the intersection of Brook Rd and Chamberlayne Ave, and was Richmond's first enclosed shopping mall. It would later be joined during the 1960's by The Shoppes at Willow Lawn Mall and Eastgate Mall in Henrico County and Walnut Mall in Petersburg. Willow Lawn offered a full assortment of shops and services.

Azalea Mall is not the first area mall to be shuttered permanently around Richmond (Eastgate Mall was shuttered in 1990, and subsequently re-opened as the struggling Fairfield Commons Mall, and Walnut Mall was shuttered permanently in 1991, while Azalea held out until 1995) but it is Richmond's first and only mall to be razed (1998). The area saw a steady decline and fading interest, as Azalea's killers were several. With the construction of the wildly popular Regency Square in 1975, the expansion of Chesterfield Towne Center in the late 1980's, and the rejuvenation of both Cloverleaf Mall and The Shoppes At Willow Lawn in the early 1990's the slump had slowly but surely set in. The final nail in the coffin was the construction and opening of Virginia Center Commons in 1991. Located just 7 minutes drive north of Azalea on Brook Road, VCC offered a sprawling floorplan including a Belk, Legget, and Hecht's and several other specialty stores to lure customers away from the fading 1960's monolith. Being seen as nothing more than a hangout spot and a haven for criminals, the customers took their money Northward and Azalea collapsed. Even the problems & crime followed, migrating to VCC, but an aggressive stance was taken by Mall Security, Management, and the Police which shut those plans down quickly. As the crime boom of the late 1970's to early 1990's (let's not forget that Richmond was deep within the grip of crack cocaine during those years) wound down, Richmond found itself short two malls, with at least three others slowly dying.

David McGrann's Correction

Posted November 20, 2006 (user submitted)

Azalea Mall was not located at the intersection of Brook Road and Chamberlayne Avenue - Brook and Chamberlayne generally run parralle to each other and only intersect in the Gilpin Court area, approximately four miles away in the general area of the Belvedere Street interchange of I-95. Azalea Mall was located on Brook Road at Azalea Avenue (north boundary) or Wstbrook Avenue (south boundary).

The mall opened in August, 1962, not in 1963. It was not "joined later" by Willow Lawn, as that center had opened on November 6, 1956. Willow Lawn was orignally an open air center and was parially enclosed in the late 1980's.

The remainder of the article is conjecture and is probably as good of a short synopsis as any regarding the ultimate failure of Azalea Mall.

It should be pointed out that Azalea Mall was never vey large - only 200,000 sf - and as such was less than half the size of what were Richmond's two "regional" shopping centers of the early 1960's, Willow Lawn and Southside Plaza. As such, Azalea Mall never really was much more than a large neighborhood center and never had much of a regional pull.

The mall was originally developed as a joint venture that included the adjacent Westbrook Psychatric Hospital. The mall property also housed "Safetytown" which was a child-sized village set up to teach schoolchildren how to cross the street safely, etc.

Original anchors for Azalea Mall were Thalhimer's and one of the earliest Woolcos. Other original tenants included Food Fair, Woolworths, Peoples Drug, The Home Shop, and Wards TV (later to morph into Circuit City).

Although the mall has been razed, the directory sign remains (I have a picture). And it's not quite dead yet. Some years ago, the manager of the Woolworth garden center took over operations after Woolwroth discontinued the garden center, and the Azalea Mall Garden Center is still in operation on a corner of the mall property.

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