17 February 2023

Coliseum Mall, Hampton, VA

 A dead mall

This mall was always an enigma to the younger me.  Living in South Hampton Roads, malls across the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel on the Peninsula were rarely, if ever, visited.  But Coliseum Mall, visible right off of Interstate 64, was the most well-known.  Every trip we took that brought us to that part of the region I knew was going to afford me another opportunity to see this expansive yet low slung structure zoom past my window.  You could clearly see the JCPenney (a “starship,” no less) and Thalhimer’s, with its turret, but the rest was shrouded in mystery.  One that I knew I would probably never be able to visit as a kid in the eighties.

Coliseum Mall Grand Opening article from The Daily Press, 1973. View the full PDF version here.

I was finally able to stop by in 1999 as a young adult working for the airlines.  I rented a car and zipped from Norfolk International looking forward to finally seeing Coliseum Mall firsthand.  I knew I was close when I saw the peaked roofline of the Hampton Coliseum, after which the mall was named.  But it was the next exit where I was finally able to leave the interstate and actually stop for a look.  And it was everything I loved about early malls.

1- Hecht's, originally Thalhimer's with its "turret."  2- The "Starship" JCPenney.

The mallway was dark on the inside, but fairly well attended for a weekday afternoon.  It was starting to show its age, but at the time Coliseum Mall was still one of the big retail players on the Peninsula, having always been the more successful between it and its neighbor, Newmarket North Mall, located just a few miles down Mercury Boulevard.  I snapped a couple of pictures, though none of the interior, looked in vain for a mallmanac, but never found one, though I finally left satisfied that the place was no longer a mystery.

1- Coliseum Mall just after the 1976 expansion.  2- Coliseum Mall at the time of my visit in 1999.

Coliseum Mall would only live on for another few years as the newer competitor to the north in Newport News, Patrick Henry Mall, became the prime retail destination between Hampton and Newport News.  At its closing, only JCPenney and Macy’s (in the old Thalhimer’s building) were left.  They were both integrated into the commercial successor of the mall, the Peninsula Town Center.  Joining them as a third anchor would be Target, but the rest of the facility was unceremoniously laid to waste.

Coliseum Mall mallmanac ca 1988.  See the full PDF version here.

Coliseum Mall opened in 1973 with three anchors, EJ Korvette, JCPenney and Nachman’s.  It was expanded in 1976 to add a concourse running perpendicular to the original with the meeting place near Nachman’s.  In addition to the new wing, department stores Smith & Welton and Thalhimer’s (based in Norfolk and Richmond, respectively) opened.  Eventually, Korvette’ s became Montgomery Ward.  When Coliseum Mall was closed, the space was demolished and the Target was built on its lot during the redevelopment.  The Nachman’s anchor spot first changed nameplates to Hess’s then Proffitt’s and finally Dillard’s at its closing.  Thalhimer’s was converted to a Hecht’s then a Macy’s before being integrated into the new development.  The distinctive home of JCPenney was bulldozed, though the store remained with a smaller footprint.

The backside of Coliseum Mall, nearly the same view I had in my younger days zooming past it on I64.

Macy’s continued to operate within what were originally Thalhimer’s walls until closing completely in 2016.  The aged structure was then knocked down, eliminating the only remaining part of the old Coliseum Mall.  Like most malls from its era, today it only exists in pages such as this.  But I am glad that I finally got to know it first-hand.

Peninsula Town Center mallmanac ca 2011.  See the full PDF version here.

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