17 May 2013

Extant Assets - Greenbrier Mall, Chesapeake, VA

In the Norfolk metropolitan area during much of the mid-eighties, South Hampton Roads featured five enclosed shopping malls. Lynnhaven Mall was big and modern, popular with the younger crowd and the mall rats. Military Circle had a bit of age and establishment, making it attractive to folks like the parents of Lynnhaven patrons. Pembroke Mall was the antique. Portsmouth's Tower Mall was kind of ghetto. And Greenbrier... Well, it was just kind of there. All of the other facilities had their own individual distinctions while Greenbrier seemed to suffer from an identity crisis of sorts.

 
Greenbrier Mall Map, clipped from a Virginia Pilot advert, ca. 1989. View the full PDF version here.

Greenbrier Mall was the second closest major shopping center to our location in the Princess Anne area of Virginia Beach, but we rarely ever went there. It was a mystery to me; one I wanted to research and get to the bottom of. I remember as we would approach the Greenbrier Parkway exit on Interstate 264, I'd struggle to see the slightest segment of the mall as we drove past. Alas, even though the super-regional was located right next to the freeway, I don't remember ever getting more than a quick peek of its white washed walls from my back seat vantage point. It seemed like it was trying to obscure itself from me.

 
Greenbrier Mall Mallmanac, ca. 1999. View the full PDF version here.

The first time that I did get a good look on what the interior of Greenbrier had to offer, it was actually on television. WAVY TV10 News was doing an entire broadcast from a location in five of the major cities of Hampton Roads. Their Chesapeake location was to be Greenbrier Mall. Even though, at that age, I thought that the news was the most monotonous and mind-numbing experience outside of long division, I couldn't wait for six p.m. to arrive that evening. I remember focusing on the corridors and mallways located just behind Terry Zahn as he reported on another savings and loan scandal or the cold war, whatever was big news back then. From our 27 inch wood console t.v., Greenbrier looked immense. The skylight feature over center court seemed to go on forever and the place looked like it was three levels. Three whole stories! I had to see it for myself.

 
 
TL- Greenbrier Mall at its 1981 opening. TR- Greenbrier in 1988 after Hess's was added. BL- Greenbrier in the very late eighties after the Leggett expansion. BR- The first anchor change in the mall took place in the early nineties when Hecht's took over Miller and Rhoads.

I have to admit that when I finally did visit Greenbrier Mall I was a bit disappointed. My expectations were set rather high, and I was hoping to experience a monstrous monument to capitalism. But what I found was a simple two level facility (albeit the only fully double-tiered enclosed concourse in South Hampton Roads at that time) with only two anchors and not a whole lot more. What I did like was that the mall was on a graded piece of real estate; entrances were accessible on both the first and second levels while some portions of the building were "buried." In addition to that unique element, Greenbrier Mall was rather bright for a mall designed during the late seventies. There were the standard wooden floors beneath wide ceilings with wooden accents, but that abundance of timber was in the burnished and lighter shades of the pine variety. I also remember the food court was kind of hidden in a small cubby hole on the second level outside of the massive center court. But I'm not completely sure if I'm remembering this correctly as, on my next visit, it was actually located closer to Sears.

 
Greenbrier Mall Mallmanac, ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.

Greenbrier Mall opened in 1981 as the growing bedroom community of Chesapeake's first enclosed shopping center. At that time, it had only two anchors, Sears and Miller & Rhoads. There was clearly room for two other majors to be added later, and it wasn't long before they were. First, around 1987, a Hess's was erected at the building's southeastern end. I remember the Virginia Pilot's printing a big write-up on the new outlet, one that was much larger than the average Hess's venue. I rode my bike all the way out to the still mysterious mall one summer day just to finally see the neoteric novelty with its new-store smell and my favorite nameplate. I'll never forget how the escalators were encased in glass while multi-colored lights enhanced the experience. It was the closest my underage mind had ever come to trippin'. Just a year or two later, Leggett built one of their trademark diamond-shaped emporiums on the northeastern pad, giving the mall the footprint it has to this day.


Greenbrier Mall as of this writing.

There was a little anchor shuffling as the years passed. Miller & Rhoads first became Hecht's before being taken over by Macy's. Hess's was eventually lost to Dillard's while Leggett's tenure at Greenbrier was short lived. Dillard's took over their space, using it as a second location while they expanded their original pad. When they consolidated into one location, JCPenney used that opportunity to join the tenant list. Sears, in what seems to be the norm for them, remains the oldest extant anchor.


Greenbrier Mall Mallmanac, ca. 2015. View the full PDF version here.

Greenbrier continues to serve its market well, although still not with an identity that its area retail peers seem to enjoy. But even as Tower Mall has faded away and Military Circle as well as the younger Chesapeake Square struggle to remain relevant, Greenbrier continues to hold its own in a crowded market.


Greenbrier Mall aerial. (Source)

Greenbrier Mall's official website

4 comments:

  1. I live in the Hampton Roads area and will admit that I rarely find myself going to Greenbrier Mall. The area around it, yes. Love hanging out at the Barnes and Noble in the strip mall across the street from the mall. But the last time I ever found myself there because I wanted to be there? Can't remember. It's just....... there.

    I would love to see you do a write-up on Chesapeake Square. Sure it's one of the smaller malls in the Hampton Roads area but it's the mall I frequent the most and I've seen its ups and downs for the last ten years or so that I've been in this area. :-)

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Cecilee.

      I agree, Greenbrier always seemed to be the forgotten mall, although it always seems to have done well. Last time I visited in the early 2000s, it looked as if it hadn't received an interior remodel since its opening, but I was glad to see that.

      I will be doing a write-up on Chesapeake Square shortly, it's just been tough finding time to do updates lately. Within the last month, not only did I move from the suburbs to downtown Seattle, but my appendix decided to rupture. But I'll get back to my duties soon enough.

      I did visit Chesapeake Square the weekend of its opening and have its very first mallmanac (even before JCPenney and Leggett opened.) From what I've read, it isn't doing so well these days. Is this correct?

      Thanks for reading the site, and look out for some updates soon.

      Chris

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  2. I grew up going to Greenbrier (I'm 22 now) and had no idea the current food court was added later. Looking at your diagram, any idea of what was originally there?

    It was remodeled in 2003. I'm guessing this is what it looked like on your last visit... http://www.cityofchesapeake.net/Assets/images/business/business-portal-greenbrier-mall-4.jpg

    Now: http://s3-media4.ak.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/FypY-OyX_S6WBmrh_9ZdOQ/l.jpg

    Greenbrier seems to have a lot of vacancies but I wouldn't call it dead. Southern Chesapeake/Great Bridge is a growing area. Its proximity to North Carolina could be a factor, being the closest major mall to Elizabeth City and the Outer Banks. Look through the parking lot at Greenbrier and you'll see plenty of NC plates.

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  3. I grew up going to Greenbrier Mall and I'm 41. I remember walking to the mall in 1981 with my mom (I was 6 and we lived in Cypress Place). We went to the very first Chesapeake Jubilee. It was in the parking lot of Greenbrier Mall. I also remember asking for money to get ice cream from the ice cream truck and riding to the mall on my bike and spending the money on video games in Space Port. Space Port and the make-shift food court used to be on the 2nd floor down in front of where JC Penny's is before Leggett built that spot. There was also a set of stairs there that led downstairs and as you walked down you could look into the pizza joint on the first level. It was one of my favorite places to go. We moved away for a couple of years and then moved back into Bayberry place when I about 12. My infatuation with the mall continued. I turned 16 in October of 1991 and secured my first job as a salesman in the Leggett department store. Thanks for posting this and for the memories.

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