David Avery's Commentary

Posted October 18, 2005 (user submitted)

I had the dubious distinction of working for two different department stores at Coliseum Mall in Hampton, Virginia, in 1988. I worked first at Montgomery Ward, then to Thalhimers, and back to Montgomery Ward by year's end.

From what I have been able to determine, this is the history of the mall and its original anchors.

The mall opened in 1973 with two anchors: Korvettes and Nachman's, which was a Peninsula-based local department store. In 1976 the mall opened a new addition, which brought JCPenney, Thalhimers, and Smith and Welton, a Norfolk-based department store.

A few years later, Nachman's merged with Rice's of Norfolk to become Rices Nachmans. The company was then sold to the Van Heusen Company. Around the same time Korvettes closed for good and the location was vacant for several years.

In 1985, Hess's Department Stores of Allentown, Pennsylvania purchased Rices Nachmans from Van Heusen. This would bring the names on the building to three, for the company was known in the area for a limited time as Hess's Rices Nachmans.

Located just down Mercury Boulevard from the mall was Montgomery Ward, in its original Hampton location at Mercury Plaza, complete with an auto outlot. The company wanted to increase the number of mall stores it had, and the former Korvettes location at Coliseum was just the ticket. Wards remodeled the store and opened at Coliseum while maintaining the Auto Center down the street at Mercury Plaza.

A short time later, Smith and Welton began having financial trouble. They closed the Coliseum store and it became a Children's Palace afterward.

By 1988, the Montgomery Ward store had undergone another renovation; Hess's still had the vintage 1973 interior of Nachmans; and Thalhimers was suffering under the bad management of its parent company, Carter Hawley Hale stores. The store had not been remodeled at the time (or now, for that matter) since its 1976 opening. Thalhimers was sold to May Company in 1990; the next year, that division was consolidated with Hecht's, May's Arlington, Virginia, division. JCPenney, at least, attempted to stay with the times.

A few years later, Hess's was in clear trouble from the massive expansion resulting in part from the company's purchase by the Crown American Corporation, which was placing a Hess's in every mall they were building. While other stores in the chain were sold to May Company and to The Bon Ton, the Hampton Roads and Peninsula area stores were sold to Proffitt's. In turn, Proffitt's realized that this was not a salable move, and sold the stores to Dillard's.

By the time Dillard's entered the mall, Children's Palace was gone and the company decided to take that store as well as the original Rices Nachmans-Hess's-Proffitt's. As Proffitt's had realized before, the move to Coliseum was not profitable, and the stores were closed as well as the Dillard acquisition at Pembroke Mall in Virginia Beach.

The Montgomery Ward closed when the company went bankrupt. This left Coliseum with one traditional department store, Hecht's, that was markedly different from the area's other stores. JCPenney was there as well, but could hardly be considered a fashion department store.

Anyone knows when a Burlington Coat Factory comes to an enclosed mall, it is almost the death knell.

What went wrong? It's hard to say, although the mere layout of Coliseum's parking lot made it almost unreachable in traffic. I distinctly remember an ambulance trying to reach a heart attack victim in the mall in December 1988, and not being able to reach the mall due to the traffic. The changing demographics of the area certainly haven't helped. But perhaps the biggest hurdle as of late is the perpetual construction of the intersection where the mall is located: West Mercury Boulevard at Interstate 64. This intersection was already a bottleneck, and the expansion which was to improve it has only hindered it. Additionally, there are safer malls to get to with cleaner stores within a reasonable, easier driving distance.

Stuart's Commentary

Posted October 12, 2005 (user submitted)

This mall opened in 1973, but I am not sure what the original anchors were. It's located in Hampton, VA just off I-64 at the intersection of Coliseum Dr. and Mercury Blvd., just a couple of miles down the road from the Newmarket Fair Mall. It's anchored by JCPenney, Hechts, Steve & Barry's, Barnes & Noble, and Burlington Coat Factory.

I lived in the Hampton/Newport News area from 2001-2004 and watched this mall decline steadily in the three years I was there. It was a fairly respectable mall when I arrived in 2001, its only setback looked to be the Wards getting ready to close because of the entire chain going under. But then, over the next three years, more stores would move out, Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, Waldenbooks, Hallmark, The Disney Store, Petite Sophisticate, were among the casualties. Dillards also closed its anchor there shortly after Christmas 2003.

Mall management tried to fight this exodus of stores by attracting stores such as Steve & Barry's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Barnes and Noble, as well as an Outback Steakhouse as an outlot in the mall parking lot.

However, that has not helped any, and the number of stores, which was 120 when I arrived in 2001, is now down to 80 stores. This is an oasis in area of retail revival, which makes it all the more interesting. Just across the interstate, a new shopping/dining area has gone up with Bass Pro Shops, Lowes, Joe's Crab Shack among others. Also, down the road in Newport News, lies the much more successful (and in a better area demographically) Patrick Henry Mall, which is undergoing an expansion and will be gaining Borders and Dick's Sporting Goods in addition to its existing anchors of Hechts, JC Penney, and Dillards.

The end might be near for this mall though, this past summer plans were announced to "de-mall" the mall and put a mixed-use retail/business/living complex.


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