Ghost Mall? Vacancies becoming more noticeable

Available office space and empty store fronts, like this one at 111 East Main Street, have become more noticeable on the Downtown Mall.

At City Council's Monday meeting on February 2, a PR campaign was unveiled by the Downtown Business Association (in a display behind the Councilors) that will place signs with affirmations about the Mall brick project around the Mall, including an a large banner on Market Street, with such phrases as "We're hitting the bricks so you can too," "Walking is cool," "These bricks are made for walking" and "We'll have you back on the bricks in no time." 

The campaign is meant to encourage folks that the Mall is still open for business, despite the barricades and construction going on. But will such affirmations be enough?

"I'm concerned about the struggling merchants on the Mall in difficult economic times, and the ongoing construction," Cynthia Schroeder, owner of the downtown clothing store Spring Street, told Councilors on Monday.  "The merchants are taking a terrible beating from the construction...the Mall is like a ghost town right now."

Schroeder said she was worried about the number of vacancies on the Mall and hoped that the City would spend more money to stimulate occupancy and help landlords better promote the Mall.

The City handed out $50,000 to the DBA in November, and on the consent agenda Monday was an additional $50,000 for continuing downtown marketing efforts. Of that first payment, DBA president Bob Stroh said that $13,000 had been spent over the holiday season, and that $37,000 would be spent in the coming months on seven "block parties" to "celebrate the new Mall." 

"Merchants are paying top rents when the Mall was at it's prime," Schroeder continued," and some of the landlords, including mine, have agreed to possibly lower the rents." Schroeder added that downtown merchants didn't want corporations like Starbucks and McDonald's moving onto the Mall. "We like the small stores, and want to keep it that way." 

Council quickly approved the additional $50,000, but there was no discussion about the growing number of vacancies on the Mall.   

On a recent stroll down the Mall, an out-of-town visitor the Hook spoke to was moved to comment on all the empty storefronts. "I don't remember there being so many empty spaces the last time I was here," the visitor said.

Indeed, during our own stroll on the Mall, the Hook counted at least 12 vacant retail and office spaces.

In addition to familiar locations that have been vacant for a long time, such as the former A & N and Order From Horder locations on the east end, and three locations between First Street and the Wachovia building, the former C-Ville Weekly offices, Sage Moon Galley, the Ryan Homes office (particularly strange, as it appears that the large furnished office had been abandoned, with contact information taped to the front door), the second and third floor of 106 Fifth Street, Migration gallery, and a location beside Lee's Hallmark shop are just a few of the places for lease.

And that's not to mention the locations that are empty due to ongoing construction, such as the Jefferson Theater and the Hardware Store building.

Updated 2/5/09 1:12pm


I believe this vacancy dilemma is more of a ridiculous-rent, greedy-landlord problem than anything else. If the landlords on the downtown mall (or in Charlottesville in general) stopped thinking that everything they have is gold, it wold not be turning back to coal before their eyes. Bricks have nothing to do with this.

I have heard that some mall landlords have offered to lower rents during the brick overhall.

My question still is was this the best way to maintain the mall ?

It's the economy, stupid!

Seriously, the Mall merchants demanded that the Mall be overhauled for their benefit. And now they're crying that the overhaul, which is being done in record time, is ruining their businesses?

How about offering better customer service? Some of the Mall merchants are snotty and cold to their customers. There's this attitude of entitlement and arrogance, "cooler than thou" thing they have going on. Lose the 'tude, and you might be surprised at the increase in your business.

The rents are way too high. The parking is terrible and scheduled to get worse. Nobody intheir right mind would open a business on the mall until the rents drop by 30%

In response to the comment made by "Reality Check": Many of the mall business owners, myself included, DID NOT want the re-bricking to be done! We knew it would be devastating to our businesses, and it is even worse than you can imagine! Yes, obviously the economy is bad, and by adding the construction on top of it many businesses have almost ground to a halt!

The Downtown Mall is a place to go for amusement. There is nothing that anybody needs on day to day basis that is not more practically served by other locations in the area. If you have a couple of hours to kill and are looking for a pleasant stroll, an evening out at the theater, dinner, or boutique-type shopping during the day, then it's great, assuming you have some money to spend.

When is Starbucks moving in to A&N? They charge about 30% less than most other mall locations for a basic cup of coffee.

The day Starbucks opens on the Mall is the day Charlottesville as we know it has officially passed away.

ââ?¬Å?We’re hitting the bricks so you can too,” ââ?¬Å?Walking is cool,” ââ?¬Å?These bricks are made for walking” and ââ?¬Å?We’ll have you back on the bricks in no time.”
None of these statements indicate to me that the Mall stores are open for business. In fact, some of them lead me to think the opposite.
Maybe the rents are high because the mortgages, taxes are insurance are high. I believe the four storefronts beside Wachovia were purcheased for around $14M.

Starbucks is exactly what the downtown mall needs. Unless there are reasons for people to shop downtown, stores will remain vacant.

What it really needs is a Gap or some other major retailer that people seek out. With so many vacancies, does it really matter whether new businesses are local or not?

Starbucks, The Gap are you kidding me? The vacancies that exist have been vacant for some time now. How about a super walmart? You d-bags need to leave my town and take your good ideas with you. Reasons for people to shop dtown hmm lets see... 1 To avoid d-bags who typically seek out places like starbucks and the gap. 2 To avoid the ugly strip malls peddling made in china tainted lead crap. 3 To have a nice walk outside(bad parking) and enjoy the beauty of old buildings and storefronts.4 To support small and local business that may charge 30% more than starbucks but thats ok with me if you can buy coffee out then you can afford it and sleep well knowing that 30% stayed in the local economy. Look it is the downtown mall people not a strip mall on 29N please try to have and show some respect. The Gap and starbucks have no place there kinda like CVS on the corner. To say it simply you people just have no class.

really??: it doesn't seem like enough people are finding your reasons compelling enough to shop on the Mall. What does one do in that case? Businesses down there clearly aren't getting enough customers. A large, popular store that brings many people and a lot of increased foot traffic might help out all of the local businesses.

It's a pretty idea to think of a place like the downtown mall as a bastion of local businesses and "mom and pops." The reality seems to be that hasn't been entirely successful. So what now?

A lot of merchants need to realize the weather is a major contributing factor in their decreased business right now too. Probably -THE- contributing factor in reduced business currently. To park a car and walk anywhere on the mall yesterday (Thursday) would have been brutal with the wind chill factor. And today it's only 31 degrees at noon. With quite a chill in the breeze as well. It seems like every business in this country, large and small, are dreaming up excuses to find that magical "bailout" from the taxpayers. Even on the local level now.

I had a few minutes to kill late Monday afternoon before a meeting, so I popped in to a lovely space on the mall which features a vast wine selection and a limited menu. There were maybe 3 customers in the entire place - I placed an order, and over the course of the next hour, had to summon my waiter over at least 6 times; he was so inattentive I couldn't believe it, and he walked out of the place before I was done. The other waiter apologized, but it really didn't matter. I dropped $50 for this, wrote a note on the credit card receipt, and stormed out of there. I won't return - all retailers should be bending over backwards to encourage repeat business...I should know, as I'm a downtown business owner, myself. The mall just lost a customer.

Wine right before an afternoon meeting? :)

Sick, that must be Sharon Gregory posting. And Sharon, please do not use the word "lovely" here; it brings out my gay side.

Lots of factors: bad economy, weather colder than ever this year (thanks Al Gore!), crappy stores.

As for Really?, would you like me to take you on the Mall and show you the stuff made in China and, clothes, etc.? Please don't be so wife is a PhD, we make lots of money, and we shop at Wal-Mart. Why should I spend $5 on shampoo for my lovely wavy locks when I can spend $2 at Wal-Mart? And do you think the French linen shop (Palais Royale) on the mall is closing stores and laying off people because of weather and parking.'s that no one wants 1 million thread count $400 pillow cases.

And want to know something about service(where I agree with Sharon D. Tox above)...every weekend I have probably 10-15 interactions with people in customer service (waiters, checkout clerks, my proctologist, etc.). And I can count at least 2-3 of those experiences have a hiccup: bad service, bad food, bad attitude, etc. That is a 20% rate...and we wonder why people frequent establishments less!

And how can you really enjoy old buildings on that mall? You'd have to look straight up, bumping into incense tables, bums and other pedestrians.

I heard Michael Jackson was buying the Men's and Boy's Shop and liquidating all the men's merchandise.

Ever wonder why you see so many UVa Students buying their food at Harris Teeter on Barracks Road when there is a Kroger there with lower prices? Mumsy and Dadsy must be sending Todd and Peppy some nice allowance.

Finally, you know how they caught the serial rapist at Harris Teeter? They found his DNA in a box of Grape Nuts.

In response to Sick, the meeting was at 7pm, and I walked into the establishment at's nice to know people are reading these comments!

Sharon's absolutely correct. The Mall offers many interesting shops, and I'd much prefer spending my money there than on chain stores. BUT, too many of the employees are surly or utterly disinterested, and some of the owners are worse. Why would I buy a book at a store with rude employees when I could have a much more pleasant experience at Barnes & Noble? It pains me to say that. I don't WANT to spend money at B&N, but I don't want to be glared at like I'm a shoplifter either.

Mall Merchant, I'm sorry that the voices of those who opposed re-bricking weren't heard. The Bob Stroh led merchant's association is mighty loud and obnoxious. Remember their insistence on cameras downtown?

Palais Royale = the gold standard for rude. So rude that French people don't want to shop there. They're even rude to wealthy shoppers! They completely deserve to fail.

And then there's Caspari. "Customers... what customers?" A beautiful space with pretty merchandise, but populated by nitwits.

What does Caspari sell? Clothing for ghosts? Oh, and speaking of parking ease, just go to Barracks Road. That place is a dream. Does anyone know how Ted Kennedy is doing...does anyone care?

NBTAG - if you were serious about Ted Kennedy check out the link posted below.

Also, are you serious about Barracks Road shopping center? That parking lot is probably the worst place to navigate in the entire Charlottesville/Albemarle area. I will park near downtown and walk a mile before I will even try to navigate that mess.

D-BAGS!!!! Chris you can take your large popular store and eat it. Parking for this large store? More foottraffic when it's colder than nuts and the center lane is barricaded. Economy in the crapper. Everytime I go dtown my favorite places are packed and doing very well even if rent is $10K a month. Mom & Pops you mean like Timberlakes you should go there sometime what do you think your big store would do for them? A ped mall is not designed for your big store. It is a ped mall you have to park and maybe walk a lil you could use the exercise I bet. And as for the don't be so elitest my wife this my money that and I still buy from walmart. You should really educate yourself on that company and how they operate and treat people really. A&N has been gone the other three storefronts have been like that for years. I was unaware d town was failing so badly that we need a big store to help out the lil stores. Makes sense I guess but not in this setting. In the end your big store only takes away from the little ones and it is just not feasable anyway and I dont care what your wifey does you just prove my point you have no class and no matter how much bank you have you can't buy it either. Why don't you wake up tommorow Ill meet you at Cafe Cubano for breakfeast we will chat with Tony and have a kick ass meal. Then why not head over to that antique store and look at cool stuff for a bit then let's have a smoke and a bloody mary @ millers then I would like to check out a used book store. Now it's lunchtime at Vita Nova. Now let's get our drink back on with a beer or three at Fellinis. I will be chatting with females while you are whining and clearly upset that we are not at chili's. We should definitely do dinner at Ten or C&O. Desert at splendoras more drinks and we rage all night at rapture blue light millers fellinis the box etc. Then Sunday we have it your way and Ill meet you at wal mart or the target strip mall thing, sounds fun. D-bags!!

It's rather hard to make a convincing argument when your post starts off referring to your fellow posters as "D-bags".

really??: stop calling people names. Learn to use apostrophes and write a coherent sentence and perhaps your points would be more easily distinguishable one from another. As is, I'll try: you're unaware that Downtown is having a rough time (or, as you put it, "failing") despite the fact that you're commenting on an article entitled "Ghost Mall? Vacancies becoming more noticeable?"

A store that brings more people to shop on the mall would likely increase the number of people who buy things at places like Timberlake drugstore.

Shockingly, all malls, not just pedestrian malls, are designed so that you park and walk from store to store. At least, I'm not aware of any malls in which all of the stores have drive thru windows.

I'm not arguing that the downtown mall should have chain stores end to end. But store after store is closing and many businesses are having serious financial troubles and have been for a while now. Rejecting out of hand ideas that could help reinforce the downtown businesses we have and encourage more local businesses to open is silly. Getting more people to go to the downtown mall and do just what you suggest (stay and have a couple of meals and shop in between....although just looking at things at the antique store isn't going to help much) is exactly what needs to happen.

Lastly: don't suggest anything to me about exercise or smoking. From what you wrote it sounds like you smoke which shows you have absolutely nothing intelligent to offer on either subject.

Play nice, folks! Or I am going to buy a few mall bricks and hit you all in the head with them! :)

Really...I do not ingest drugs, so do not refer to me as a "Dime Bag." Also, after your splendid day dodging the rotting bricks and bums on the mall, I'd be broke. Go to Miller's? Didn't Coran Capshaw have something to do with that place? Yeah, he is so small business friendly. Let me fork over my $100 for a Springsteen ticket, man...the workers rule! Oh, and you forgot one cultured, hip activity, Really...stopping to admire the lovely architecture the city father's approved at that east end of the mall.

Additionally, I am proud of Wal-Mart and what they do for America! Maybe they need to unionize so people who skim bottles of aspirin across a scanner can be paid $15 per hour. A living wage, man!

As for Barracks Road, "not Mrs. Gore," my swollen, ulcered, pus-oozing tongue was placed firmly in cheek. Barracks Road is pathetic; and what's really funny is speaking to some of the shop owners there. They think they are actually competing with Short Pump and Tyson's Crossing. Oh, yeah, real comparable!

As for Ted Kennedy, if there were justice, my algae eaters would be enjoying a bit of the esteemed "Lyin' of the Liberals" as he rotted at the bottom of the eternal aquarium. But that's another story for another time.

i believe it's "douche", not "dime".

Definitely Douche.

"really??" pretty much makes the argument for why the Downtown Mall is not faring well. Overpriced, snobby, elitist. Looking upon your douchebag customers with contempt isn't going to sell a lot of $6 truffles and $15 wooden toys.
I get the impression that the new bricks that WE bought are for the merchants, by way of the high-heeled Farmington wives who spend the big bucks there.
All things being equal, I prefer local businesses. Local home builders and restaurants often offer higher quality. That said, I'm not going to pay $2 extra for something if it's the same as what they sell in Wal-Mart, just to stick money in the pocket of a "local" business owner. Call me selfish, but I'd rather use that $2 for something else me or my family needs. Or invest it in Wal-Mart stock and be my own "local businessman."
On parking: Barracks Road is a back-alley abortion parking-wise, but at least you can find a spot near the store (except at lunchtime). The Mall is hard to get to, and inconvenient for parking. And way too many bums hang around, for that matter. Who the hell wants to be panhandled? Too bad the snobs who love the Mall are too paralyzed by guilt to make the City shoo those bums away.

The website for Albemarle Truth in Taxation can be found at

Hmmm...there's some guy named "Kevin" Drake also stepping down as Albemarle GOP Chairman? Maybe he's my evil twin, always lurking around the corner! (or maybe he's the *good* twin!)

-- Keith

Keith C. Drake, Ph.D.
Chairman, Albmemarle GOP

Keith, we're so sorry. A correction will be coming forthwith, online at least.