I guess it’s a cliché, kids hanging out at the mall for fun, but so it was with me. I grew up in Yorktown and remember my (stay-at-home) mom (what was then called a “housewife”) going to the local mall several times a week in the summer and bringing me along. I loved it. I have very specific memories of the toy stores and department stores as far back as when I was five or six years old.
For us, the “local” mall was Coliseum Mall in Hampton, VA (it was actually a good little hike from home). I feel like I grew up there, in a lot of ways. When I think of my youth and the fun I had in the ’80s, my thoughts often take me to those large orange and brown floor tiles and water fountains, the zig-zag ceiling window arrangements, and the overall feel of the place. Early on it was the toy stores I was most interested in and, of course, and as I headed towards the teenage years, electronics and books stores came into the mix. I loved that mall and the experience of walking around in that thick ’80s atmosphere I remember so fondly.
Coliseum Mall was built by Mall Properties, Inc. (MPI) and opened on Halloween Day in 1973 along Mercury Boulevard in Hampton. It was the largest and busiest shopping area on the Virginia Peninsula. It’s original anchors were Korvettes, JC Penny, and Nachmans. In 1976 another wing was added, perpendicular to the original, bringing with it Smith & Welton and Thalhimers. Sometime in the early nineties the Cinema I & II movie theaters (I saw Return of the Jedi and Space Camp there!) were replaced by a food court with, as best I can put it together, an overall re-styling of the mall following soon after. (Bye-bye seventies-style orange tiles, hello boring white.)
As these renovations were underway the mall was in decline, not due in small part to the opening of Crown American’s Patrick Henry Mall in the Oyster Point area of Newport News in 1987. (At the time I lived in walking distance to the new mall and that, along with changing interests, marked the end of any frequent trips to Coliseum.) Coliseum Mall continued its slow decline until it closed its doors in January of 2007 for demolition the following month. It was replaced by an open-air shopping area known as Peninsula Town Center which is, at the time of this writing, on its third owner and doing rather poorly.
Over the past year I have been on the search for photos of the mall as I best remember it, with its original decor. There is almost nothing on the Internet showing the mall at that period. Having come up with little in the way of a photographic history, I contacted MPI (now Olshan Properties) in hopes they could help me. They gave the name of a contact in the City of Hampton who I was told might be able to help, as the city had prepared “a wonderful collage of photos” of the mall for former owner, Mr. Olshan. Happily, my city contact was able to provide me with a number of scanned photos, schematics, and newspaper clippings showing Coliseum Mall in its early days. Unfortunately, these photos are black and white, but a single color photo of the interior of the mall as it once was (that orange!) can be found in a post about the Peninsula Town Center Information Pamphlet (the collage that Olshan spoke of) at the That Mall is sick and that Store is dead! website. It’s the upper-right photo at the top of the page. (The owner of that website has requested I not use her scanned image on my site, unfortunately.)
In closing this post, I thought I would share a few stand-out memories I have of the place, as they come to me in the typing. These are all memories of things that took place sometime in the 1980s. Here goes.
My first computer, a TI-99/4A, was purchased around Christmas 1982 from (oddly enough) the Singer sewing machine store located in the “new” wing, just down from JC Penny. Soon after, I took a BASIC programming class taught in the store’s backroom. I bought lots of games and also an Atari 520ST computer from Games ‘n’ Gadgets (which later became Electronics Boutique). The only place I ever saw the “business portable” Commodore SX-64 computer was in a store called Computers & Electronics. I played lots of arcade games, including my first game of Marble Madness, at the Time Out! arcade. I used to love to eat lunch with mom in Thalhimer’s cheesy Sword & Kilt restaurant (upstairs). The only time I ever saw a Vectrex game console in the wild was in the Thalhimers electronics section. I used to like to browse the knickknacks sold at Penn’s — I got a cool little digital clock there, once. I spent a lot of time playing around with CP/M on a TRS-80 Model III on display setup out in the center of the mall, in front of the Radio Shack. Near that display I had a wooden carving of my name made (that I still have). My dad (who worked at NASA) and/or my sister, Claudia, would often meet mom and me for lunch at Piccadilly cafeteria. I had a thing for fancy pens, and I’d occasionally save up and buy one at Summit Stationers. I got my only pair of parachute pants at Davy Jones’ Locker, which was made to look like a submarine! I loved the meatballs at the tiki-styled Blue Hawaiian restaurant. I bought many an album (cassette tape) at Mothers, with its red shag carpet. At the Hobby House, my dad and I purchased the R/C airplane we built together. I got my first Swatch there. I found an Atari 400 for $25 at Children’s Palace as it was closing. I always wanted to get an Orange Julius shake-thing, but my mom would never let me (“oh, those are terrible”). I found out my sister was pregnant with her first child, my niece Karene, at dinner with my parents at the Steak and Ale satellite restaurant (when I was 10). Spencer’s was fun — wink, wink (though nowadays it’s gone pretty far out there). I bought lots of Transformers at JC Penny (a friend would be in the mall, see one I didn’t have, and hide it behind something so I could come grab it later!). When quite young, I loved the slices of lemon pie at the then-exotic Chic-fil-a, where mom and I would often each lunch.
Looking at it, I guess a lot of my time there was about geeking out. Such nice memories.