29 March 2016

No Supply, No Demand – Newmarket North Mall, Hampton, VA

Newmarket North Mall in Hampton was another one of those malls that existed beyond my limited teenage realm. Even though we lived in the same metropolitan area as the two-level monolith, our actual residence was located quite far away, over the infamous bridge-tunnels, while this destination existed in a mysterious land called the Peninsula. In contrast, although Coliseum Mall was located in the same general area, it was right off of a major freeway. Therefore every time we wizzed by on I-64, I got a good look at the seventies sprawl center. But for Newmarket North, it was years before I first laid eyes on it.

 
Two shots of Newmarket North Mall from a late 80s advert. (Source)

By the time that happened, it was in the process of being re-christened Newmarket Fair. Apparently, by the late eighties the mall was languishing. And when taking into account its location, it’s not exactly a mystery why. We were driving west on Mercury Boulevard, Hampton’s main retail corridor, toward the James River Bridge on a family outing. I noticed that the commercial space on either side of us was aging rather un-gracefully, but I was still excited knowing that I would finally set eyes on the final Hampton Roads mall that I had yet to see. I gazed out of my window waiting for the brown brick block to appear before me. And even with eyes like a hawk, I almost missed it.


Newmarket North’s layout from its opening to the late eighties.

But there it was. I was hoping for an elongated, glorious shop-oplis, but all I saw was a bland, low-profiled and very seventies modern, Sears. Beyond it, I could see a boxy structure stretching away from Mercury Boulevard into innocuous neighborhoods around it. I could just make out the main entrance and a few skylights, but all too soon it was out of view. Why the hall would they build a linear mall perpendicular to the main highway,” I thought to myself. It was hidden and rather unremarkable. I always thought that this was just one of the many factors that led to the demise of what, by design, should have been a very successful retail facility.


Newmarket North’s strange location along Mercury Boulevard, facing mostly subdivisions with little frontage along the main avenue. (Source)

Newmarket North Mall opened in 1975 as Hampton Roads’ first fully bi-level shopping mall. Regional names Miller & Rhoads and Leggett were joined by Sears as anchors. Though located just a few miles down the road from Coliseum Mall, the two seemed to co-exist pretty well throughout the seventies and most of the eighties. But, as time went on and the surrounding neighborhood declined, so did Newmarket North. To hasten its demise, a new retail destination, Patrick Henry Mall, was opened in 1989 in neighboring Newport News. These factors, as well as its distance from major freeways and dubious visibility, led to its first renovation and renaming in 1989.


A bird’s eye view of the brown, low profiled block of shops. (Source)

Despite the renovation and moniker Newmarket Faire, the commercial complex continued its descent. Then in 2000, several investors purchased the mall, in which Sears remained the only anchor, and patterned a project similar to one in Tampa where an old mall was turned into a large office facility. The place was renamed for the third time, this time to NetCenter. With Sears and a few retail establishments remaining on the south end, the rest of the mall was converted into connected and cutting edge (for the early 00s) commercial space, with companies such as Northrup Grumman and Verizon moving in.


The complex’s initial layout as NetCenter.

I last visited the mall in 2001, while it was still in the process of being converted. I drove in from the east side of the monolith, through neighborhood back roads, and entered the parking lot facing the shuttered remains of Leggett. Its black glass adorned entrances remained, with the dark brown brick placed in geometric patterns around all of the mall entrances. I took a short walk through the two floors, and there it remained in all of its eighties pastel glory. It didn’t look worn or tattered, just empty. Like all I was missing were the crowds, a Benetton shoppe and Tiffany performing in center court. I will always regret not taking pictures, but at least I have the memories.

 
NetCenter “Mallmanac”, ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here- Level 1 | Level 2

NetCenter seems to be soldiering on well enough, though their website no longer is active. I hope it sticks around for a while; even though it no longer serves as a retail hub, at least we still can visit, unlike nearby Coliseum Mall.

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