Anita Rose's Commentary

Posted February 15, 2008 (user submitted April 10, 2007)

Imagine it is the year 1995 and a tourist or somebody new to Hampton, Virginia was driving down the four lanes of Mercury Boulevard. They are stick at a red light at the intersection of Mercury and Newmarket North, and see a large black, pink, and yellow sign for something called Newmarket Fair. They merge into the turn lane and drive to the parking lot of a large brick building. The only hint of what is in this Newmarket Fair building is an old Sears sign. The parking lot isnít empty per se, but it is not full either. The person gets out of their car and walks to one of the entrances of the vast brick building. They walk in and the shiny hallways are completely empty, a look to the left, a look to the right, most of the stores has their chain gates down, and a black tarp behind the chains. No reminder of what it once was. After passing the information desk whose only purpose is for lottery tickets now, there are more empty stores; the only source for nourishment is a Chick-a-Fila. Further into the mall, and there are finally some stores, but if shoes or clothes are not needed this shopping day that consumer is out of luck. Surprisingly, the stairs, escalators and glass front elevator do not have barricades closing the second floor off. The stores on the second floor huddle for convenience round the Sears entrance that is still sporting its 1970ís signage inside the mall as well. Walking past the few open stores on the second floor, there are what appears to be small lights of life. Alas, it is just more dreariness when it is discovered that the lights of life were ones of a pastel colored carousel that is being used as the centerpiece for an empty food court. As the visitor to Newmarket Fair Mall leaves and gets back on Mercury Boulevard, they wonder what happened. They are confused that during a time where malls are very popular that there is a mall that failed.

Thirteen years later, a mall as empty as Newmarket Fair is pretty commonplace in todayís rocky economy. The only exception is that Newmarket Fairís death was pretty early compared to other malls that emptied out and shut down in the late 1990ís and present day. Malls ďdieĒ because of competition from bigger and better malls, road construction, and people of a certain economic demographic moving away from the mall. Some malls get torn down, but some are lucky to survive to serve another purpose. Newmarket Fair was one of the lucky ones.

On Wednesday, March 26, 1975 at 9 a.m., a few days before Easter a two-story mall opened in Hampton, Virginia. Its name was Newmarket North Mall, and it boasted to be the largest enclosed shopping complex in the Tideewater area . The fortress like style of the mall was accented with earth tones and real trees dotting the tiled landscape. There were 107 retail spaces in the mall, with three anchor stores (in retail speak, anchor stores are the large stores that are at the ends of malls, and have their own entrances in and out of the mall). Newmarket Northís anchors were Miller & Rhoads, Sears and Leggett.

Miller & Rhoads was a Virginia based department store that originated in Richmond in 1885 and spread to the suburbs in the late 1960ís . Miller & Rhoads had previously operated in the Newmarket South Shopping Center across from the mall, but moved to the larger mall location.

Prior to Sears opening in the mall, if a consumer wanted something from Sears Roebuck, they would have to order out of the hefty Sears catalog and wait for their package to come in the mail. When the new Sears was opened, time was saved for the customers.

Newmarket Northís opening day was without its third anchor department store, Leggett, which would open in July of that year along with several other small stores. Leggett was still at its original location on Washington Avenue in the neighboring city of Newport News .

Newmarket Northís opening day was kicked off with events such as baseball player Ted Williams cutting the ceremonial ribbon with a baseball bat shaped axe, and country musician Roy Clark signing autographs. Local celebrities such as radio and television personality Dick Lamb and Miss Virginia were also there for the occasion. About 70-80 stores were open and ready for Newmarketís opening day including some stores that were new to the area such as lingerie seller Fredrickís of Hollywood, Hickory Farms of Ohio, and a devilish drink named Orange Julius . Included is a list from the March 25, 1975 edition of The Daily Press and the Times Herald.

That summer, Newmarket North had another grand opening of sorts when (as previously mentioned) Leggett and several small stores opened on July 30, 1975. The Newmarket North location was Leggettís largest store, and the second largest store in Newmarket North (Sears being the largest).

The rest of the 1970ís were good for Newmarket North, even with the expansion of its rival, Coliseum Mall a few miles away. By 1980 though, there was small hints of criticism about how the mall was a bit out of place for the area that it was in. Newmarket North had opened after findings that were gathered in the late 1960ís during a huge population boom for the area. Upscale stores had been opened, although 49 percent of the shoppers were white collar . Stores that had opened with the grandest of grand openings on Mercury Boulevard in the 1970ís were facing going out of business sales that were not as grand in the late 1980ís. While stores in Hampton was closing down, the neighboring city of Newport News got some retail growth in the form of their own mall, Patrick Henry Mall in 1987. Coliseum Mall started on a remodel and an expansion on the heels of the Patrick Henry opening. The powers that be at Newmarket North realized that it needed some changes in order to still be viable.

In 1989, Newmarket North started their own remodel, but the retail funerals of the late 1980ís had gotten its hold on Newmarket. In October of 1989, Miller & Rhoads went bankrupt. The mid 1980ís had not been good to the corporation, after the Allied department store chain bought several other regional store chainsíí. The going out of business sales for Miller & Rhoads started in October of 1989, and by 1990 the store was closed.

Around this timeframe, Newmarket started a nine million dollar remodel . Gone were the dark earth tone colors, replaced by fuchsia, grey, turquoise, white and hints of yellow. A new food court was added, but it was not open in time for the unveiling in November of 1990. The two large additions to the mall was 14,000 square foot of skylights, and a carousel in the food court. The biggest change of all though, was a renaming of the mall from Newmarket North Mall to Newmarket Fair Mall, to reflect its new family friendly appearance. There was worries though that all the money invested into the remodel for the mall would not help matters due to Miller & Rhoads being empty. Storeowners also complained that the remodel forced customers away from the mall.

The early 1990ís were the beginning of a downturn for malls. Factors such as the Persian Gulf War in 1991, a recession, and consumers changing spending habits were all reasons why people were not using malls as their main shopping destination. The selling and buying of regional department stores (such as the incident with Miller & Rhoads) by larger chains also did not help matters . Stores needed change after looking at successes of discount stores where there was a trend toward leaner inventory, and items were going on sale quicker . Also, too many stores were built; companies thought that affluence of the early to mid 1980ís would stay.

By 1994, it was completely obvious that Newmarket Fair was not improving at all after the extensive renovation. In a February 27, 1994 Daily Press article entitled How is Newmarket Fairing? It was stated that Newmarket Fairís vacancy rate has drastically fallen to 40% . In 1992, the Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel was opened and shoppers had easier ways to get to better malls in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. In 1995, the mallís owners (Wilder Management) started to offer short-term low-priced leases to local start up businesses . This did not work, and by 1997, searches started for non-retail uses for Newmarket Fair. One suggestion was for Thomas Nelson Community College to move their campus to the mall, but the idea was shot down because if Thomas Nelson left their campus it would have left a valuable piece of real estate . Colonial Downs (a horse racing track) also considered using parts of Newmarket Fair as an off track betting location, but that idea was also cut down. In March of 1997, Bell Atlantic (now known as Verizon) bought the vacant Miller & Rhoads building to use for a telecommunications business. There was a trend in Hampton in the mid to late 1990ís for telemarketing companies to buy vacant storefronts that shut down due to the recessions and bankruptcies of the early 1990ís . In 1998, it was decided that Newmarket Fair would be renamed to Netpark Hampton Roads . By 2003, two more large offices moved into vacant parts of the mall, AMSEC, an engineering firm to the United States Navy and training facilities for the Newport News Shipyard, formally known as Northrop Grumman. Eventually the building was renamed again to NetCenter. NetCenter is now the largest office project in Hampton Roads .

If a person takes a trip now to the former Newmarket Fair Mall, they will be in for a surprise. Only one entrance to the former mall is still open to the public, and only one tenant in the mall still remains, Piccadilly Cafeteria, which is a tenant that was at the mall on opening day in 1975. Sears also remains on the premises due to the fact that the company owns itís building, and it is the only Sears on the Peninsula . The only hints that there was a mall on the premises are around the interior Sears entrance where nothing has been renovated (as seen in the above photograph).

Now one of Newmarketís rivals has suffered the same fate. Coliseum Mall a mere 3.7 miles away closed (with the exception of its anchors) on January 14, 2007, due to poor business for the past five years. It will be torn down and rebuilt into the Peninsula Town Center, and is set to finish in April of 2009. The mall is something that is going the way of cassette tapes, dial up internet and floppy disks.

It really is amazing to see a mall that has survived after all its stores has closed. Not very many other malls had the same fate; most were torn down, left as fields or turned into shopping centers with the same stores that are in every shopping center in the United States.

John Barker's Commentary

Posted September 15, 2005 (user submitted)

Newmarket North Mall (Hampton/Newport News, VA). Home to Miller and Rhodes, Leggett's , and Sears, and a host of smaller stores, such as Rave, Stuart's , Camelot Music, Sal's Italian Restaurant, McDonalds, Everything's A Dollar, Fine's Men Shop, Hickory Farms, The Gap, La Vogue, La Vogue Plus, Stuart's Plus, Singer, Frederick's of Hollywood, Kay's Jewelers, K&K Toys,Things Remembered, Treasury Drugs, AMC 4 Theatres, Morisson's Cafeteria, Chick-Fil-A, Nautilus Arcade, among many others.

The mall was also home to "Tina, The Talking Christmas Tree" in the Legett's entrance.

Miller and Rhodes went out of business in the 80s, and that anchor was never permanently leased as a retail area again.

The mall was sold, renovated, and rechristened "Newmarket Fair". Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) put a call center in where Miller and Rhodes used to be, but walled it off from the rest of the Mall. Leggett's converted into an Outlet, and then when Belk's bought out the Leggett sisters, the store closed. With the loss of two anchors, the mall struggled, and died. Sears owns its portion of the mall and still does quite a business there with its Auto Center. Picadilly Cafeteria also still exists, feeding the office workers and those who work in Sears. (According to the business license on display at Sears, it pays taxes on $40 million in sales a year -- guess those Craftsman tools add up quick!)

There had been talk of Thomas Nelson Community College taking over part of the mall, but that was declined because Hampton/Newport News was greedy with the rent. There had been talk of putting a Colonial Downs Off-Track Betting Parlor in, but the local Churches and residents would rather have had an empty shell of a building than something bringing in revenue.

Eventually, most of the mall was divided up for office space, and it has been rechristened again as the "Net Center". I actually had the opportunity to set foot in the former mall not long ago -- there's a glass wall (complete with security guard) to keep the public out of the leased office spaces (whch are about 80% leased). The area that used to be Mitchell's Formal Wear and Nauticus Arcade are still walled off. Dutch Maid Donuts is a simple shell of itself, label scar and all from where it used to be. The mall restrooms are still there, as is the "kids" area (though the TVs are gone that used to show cartoons). The customer service desk is still there, but completely vacant; not even paperwork for the security guards is kept there.

What killed Newmarket North? When the mall was built in the 70s, most people southside traveled to the Peninsula via the James River Bridge, and US Route 17. The mall sits almost at the foot of the Bridge. With the construction of I-664, people started travelling that way (and the construction of Chesapeake Square Mall) which spelled the end of the glory for Newmarket. The shopping center across the street, formerly Newmarket South, now "Newmarket Shopping Center" lost its Rose's Department Store to Newmarket Plaza across the street. Langley Federal Credit Union moved out, G.C. Murphy's was purchased by Ames (who went bankrupt), Newsome Discount Store moved in and went under. Hechinger's was bought out by HQ, who closed the store, before HQ went under in 2000/01. J.C. Penny Portfolio (home furnishings) went under and is now occupied by Goodwill Industries. A&N moved down into the old Rose's storefront. Many smaller stores went out and were replaced by "Heartbreak Alley" (a nightclub). Crumb's Bakery went out of business, as did Kam Ling (home to some of the best Chinese food you could ever have eaten). The Newmarket Theaters went under in the late 90s, though the buildings remain. I think Newmarket Lanes still is there, however. The A&P turned into a Super Fresh, which was converted into a Farmer Jack's . When the parent company went bankrupt, the building was demolished and a new Food Lion was built on the site.

James Pierce's Commentary

Posted October 18, 2005 (user submitted)

I grew up very near where the Newmarket North/Fair/Whatever It Is Mall exists-- and it was barely existing when I moved from Virginia in Oct. 1996. As I remember, the mall opened in the spring or summer of 1975, and was quite busy for the first several years. Then, as I understood, the mall's owner or holding company upped on the stores' leases, and they moved out, one after another. Miller & Rhoads was one of the first to go. Besides Sears, it was one of the top attracters at the (S)mall.

In September 1976, at age 22, I received my first and last flu shot in the upstairs open atrium there (swine flu, and I stood in line for the shot because it was free).

Prior to its existence, the location had been a heavily wooded, swampy area with lots of snakes and mosquitoes.

I was four yrs. old when the Newmarket Shopping Center was built in 1958. Still remember seeing the construction cranes there during that time. The building that housed the A & P had for awhile been home to a Giant Foods store. One night, after a visit with our grandparents in Smithfield and subsequent return trip across the old James River Bridge (when my sisters and I were all kids and packed into our 1961 Mercury Comet station wagon), the "G" and the "I" neon tubes of the big Giant Foods marquee had burned out, leaving only Ant Foods to be seen.

The Heartbreak Cafe occupied what was originally the "Co-Op" grocery store. The former Hechinger's/HQ building was originally the Miller & Rhoads store, which opened in late 1964. I understand that the building was situated right on top of the Hampton/Newport News city line, causing a bit of complication as far as property taxes.

The Newmarket "Rocking Chair" Theater opened in Sept. 1965 amid much hullaballoo, including the placement of a time capsule below the concrete entry/exit area.

I believe the Crum's Bakery had closed while I was still living there-- what good treats they made! I was saddened to hear of the Kam Ling's demise-- I ate there on last time in Oct. 1996 before leaving the area. There was also a DeYong's shoe repair back in there. Wornom's drugstore was at the corner, next to Kam Ling or Rosenbaum's Fence Company.

Links - Photo essay done by deadmalls asst. editor Anita Rose about the mall.
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