Redefining Retail: The Transformation of Military Circle Mall, Norfolk, VA

The Grand Opening and the Dawn of a Retail Era

In Norfolk, Virginia, Military Circle Mall emerged as a bustling hub of commerce and social interaction in 1970.

Developed by the visionary Harvey Lindsay Jr., this mall was more than just a collection of stores; it was a cornerstone of community life.

“Remember when shopping malls were the town squares of our childhoods?”

With original tenants like JCPenney, J.B. Hunter, and Smith & Welton, the mall quickly became a go-to destination.

Not just a place for shopping, it also hosted a Sheraton hotel and a 6-screen AMC Theatres multiplex, offering a full spectrum of entertainment options.

The presence of Leggett, a division of Belk, further solidified the mall’s status as a retail powerhouse.

“The joy of movie nights and the thrill of shopping sprees, all under one roof!”

Over time, Military Circle Mall saw several changes. Thalhimer’s, initially occupying the space of J.B. Hunter, transformed into Hecht’s in 1992 and later into Macy’s in 2006, reflecting the evolving retail landscape.

The closure of Smith & Welton in 1990 marked the end of an era, but the mall continued to adapt and thrive.

A significant renovation in 1996 brought fresh life to the space, introducing skylights, modern entrances, and a 600-seat food court, breathing new energy into the mall’s ambiance.

AMC Theatres, once a central attraction, closed in the mid-90s, but the cinematic spirit lived on with the opening of Cinemark in a different section of the mall.

“Military Circle Mall, where memories were made and moments were shared.”

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Things to do in Norfolk, Virginia, often included visiting Military Circle Mall, which encapsulated the essence of shopping, entertainment, and community bonding for over five decades.

Shifting Scenes: Military Circle Mall’s Era of Transformation

Military Circle Mall continued to evolve as the years rolled on, mirroring the changing retail and consumer preferences trends.

1998, a notable shift occurred when Belk vacated the former Leggett building. This event paved the way for significant changes, including Urban Retail’s renovation efforts in 1999.

These efforts brought a new vitality to the mall with the addition of a Sears store, rejuvenating a space previously occupied by Smith & Welton.

“Every corner of Military Circle Mall whispered a story of change and adaptation.”

The new millennium ushered in another exciting development: opening an 18-screen Cinemark movie theater in 2000, standing proudly on the former Leggett/Belk site.

This addition not only enhanced the entertainment offerings of the mall but also symbolized the continual reinvention of the space.

Thor Equities’ mall acquisition in 2002 marked another chapter in its story. Renamed The Gallery at Military Circle, the mall underwent mall-wide renovations, further modernizing its appearance and appeal.

Among the new arrivals was Ross Dress for Less in 2004, taking over the space once occupied by McCrory’s dime store.

“A tapestry of shops and entertainment, constantly weaving new patterns.”

The Winds of Change: Store Closures and Ownership Transitions

Military Circle Mall faced several challenges that reshaped its retail landscape in the following years.

The closure of Sears in 2012 was a significant blow, followed by the announcement in 2014 that JCPenney would also be closing its doors.

These closures were a nationwide trend affecting many malls and big-box retailers.

“An era was fading, but the memories lingered on.”

The Norfolk Economic Development Authority intervened in December 2014, purchasing the vacated anchor space.

This strategic move signaled the city’s investment in and commitment to the mall’s future and surrounding area.

Once bustling with shoppers and brimming with energy, the mall was now grappling with the reality of changing retail landscapes and consumer habits.

This shift was a testament to the broader trends in the retail industry, where traditional malls faced growing challenges.

A Turning Point: The Foreclosure and Auction of Military Circle Mall

In 2015, Military Circle Mall reached a critical juncture. The entire property was placed under foreclosure on April 16, signaling a major shift in its destiny.

A few months later, on July 15, the mall was put up for public auction, underscoring its uncertain future.

“From a bustling center of commerce to a symbol of shifting retail trends.”

Despite these challenges, the mall persevered for a short while longer. However, the closure of Macy’s in January 2016, as part of a massive restructuring, marked another step towards the mall’s eventual decline.

This closure was a local event and a broader pattern affecting Macy’s locations across the region and the nation.

Military Circle Mall
Sears – Military Circle Mall” by MikeKalasnik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The End of an Era and the Promise of Renewal

By the end of 2022, it was clear that the story of Military Circle Mall as a retail destination was ending.

The Norfolk Economic Development Authority voted for its demolition in early 2023, paving the way for a new chapter in the area’s development.

“A chapter closes, but the story of Military Circle continues.”

As the mall closed, a plan for robust tenant relocation was implemented, reflecting a commitment to supporting the community through this transition.

Interestingly, the Norfolk Economic Development Authority acquired most of the shopping center property by 2020, indicating plans for significant changes.

The future of the Military Circle area is now the subject of much anticipation and speculation. Proposals for redevelopment, including those from notable figures like musician Pharrell Williams and NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, hint at a vibrant and dynamic future.

“Military Circle Mall’s legacy paves the way for new dreams and developments.”

Reflecting on Military Circle Mall: A Legacy of Community and Change

As we look back on the history of Military Circle Mall, it’s clear that it was more than just a shopping center.

It was a vibrant part of Norfolk’s community, where memories were made and trends were set. Its story reflects the broader narrative of retail evolution and community development.

Now, as we anticipate its transformation, the legacy of Military Circle Mall remains a testament to the enduring spirit of Norfolk – a city that embraces change while honoring its past.

The future redevelopment promises to continue this legacy, offering new opportunities and experiences for future generations.

“Military Circle Mall: A chapter concludes, but its story continues to inspire.”

Military Circle Mall Timeline

Year Event
1970 Military Circle Mall Opens
1996 Renovations: Skylights, New Entrances, and Food Court
2002 Mall Renamed to The Gallery at Military Circle
2012 Sears Closes
2014 JCPenney Closes
2016 Macy’s Closes
2021 Cinemark 18 Closes
2023 Military Circle Mall Closes Permanently

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Comments: 10
  1. Avatar of Dave

    military mall had to submit because of the amount of theft, and crime going on. The stores had to close due to shoplifting out of control. look at janaf shopping center. Next it will be McAuther mall. city is a ghetto

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Unfortunate to hear about shopping centers struggling with theft and crime. However, looking for solutions and ways to address the root causes of the issues communities face is helpful. This might involve working with law enforcement, implementing new security measures, or investing in programs and initiatives that support the local economy and promote community well-being. Working together can create safer and more vibrant communities for everyone.

    2. Avatar of James Atkison
      James Atkison

      The Word Ghetto is a Kind Description of The Truth About The Area and The Direction Our American Idea of Society Has gone.

      1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
        Spencer Walsh (author)

        I appreciate your candid perspective on Military Circle Mall and your mentioned societal implications. It’s a complex issue; such viewpoints help understand communities’ diverse experiences.

  2. Avatar of Diane

    I worked there at the age of 18 for 5 years. My first full time job which allowed me to purchase a green mustang with tan leather seats… that was in its heyday. I enjoyed seeing the flight crew going to the hotel for their overnights stays. The rolls served at Piccadilly’s were to die for. It was the place to be for the holidays and see old friends and make new ones as well. Thanks for the sharing.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      It’s always great to hear about people’s personal experiences and memories of places like Military Circle in Norfolk. You have some beautiful memories from working at the mall, including purchasing your first car and enjoying the festive holiday atmosphere. Thanks for sharing your memories!

  3. Avatar of Te

    I worked at cinemark for my first job from 2019 to 2020. Cinemark closed down March 17th 2020 before it reopened due to the pandemic outbreak. but even before that the entire mall was having a real bad rat problem, like those rats were everywhere. I can only imagine how much worse it was when the building was unoccupied. nonetheless, cinemark and military circle mall holds a special place in my heart. many memories and life long friends!

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Thanks for sharing your comment about Military Circle Mall. It’s great to hear that you have fond memories of working at Cinemark and making lifelong friends there.
      It’s also unfortunate to hear about the rat problem facing the mall. That must have been really unpleasant to deal with, especially while working there…

  4. Avatar of Jam

    Sad to see it go and the other malls in the area. I am sure crime, and rental increases and COVID didn’t help. Think of our veterans and elderly and those who don’t have high paying jobs. Give them affordable places to live without charging an arm and a leg. These wealthy companies can build and make rentals for 1,000 a month for 2 or 3 bedrooms. Stop being money greedy

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Absolutely! Thank you for bringing up an important issue regarding affordable housing for community members, especially veterans, older people, and those with lower incomes. It’s crucial to prioritize people’s well-being over profits.

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