crossroads mall


Crossroads Mall was only one of a handful of enclosed suburban shopping centers and the first of its kind in Virginia when it opened three miles north of Roanoke in 1961 at the intersection of Williamson Road (US 11), Hershberger Road (Route 101) and Airport Road.  Developer T.D. Steele and his designers created a unique and popular shopping experience for an eager public.  Throngs of shoppers left the long-dominant downtown to stroll through a grand two-story interior shopping hall reminiscent of Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, Minnesota.  Crossroads was the first suburban shopping area in Roanoke that maintained night hours (until 9 PM) from Monday to Saturday. 


Crossroads was one of three large suburban shopping centers built in the Roanoke area in 1961 and 1962.  Towers Shopping Center, a two-level strip mall built on a mountain in south Roanoke featured a small interior mall with escalators to connect the two levels and opened a few months after Crossroads in 1961.  Roanoke-Salem Plaza, an open-air center with a long pedestrian promenade opened in 1962, three miles to the west of Crossroads.  The onslaught of new suburban retail space decimated downtown Roanoke, leading it to a slow and steady period of decline that persisted for nearly 25 years, until revitalization efforts brought it back to life, though not as a major retail destination.


Original anchors at Crossroads were JCPenney, Roses variety store, Heironimus department store, Winn-Dixie and Peoples Drug.  Other original mall tenants included Fink’s Jewelers, Smartwear Irving-Saks (fine apparel), Sidney’s (women’s apparel), Thom McAn, Pete’s Deli, Cato Fashions and Bailey’s Cafeteria.  Bailey’s was on the upper level and featured a open dining room that overlooked the mall’s lower level, which featured two large fountains and park-like greenery and benches.


In 1966, Crossroads Mall was expanded to coincide with opening of I-581 which came within a mile of Crossroads via Hershberger Road.  A two-screen theater was added on the east side of the mall.  JCPenney added 25,000 square feet to its store (growing to 85,000 square feet) and a free-standing auto center.  In addition, Woolco was added to the west end of the upper level along Hershberger Road, along with a subterranean French restaurant called Fesquet’s that was very popular.  Further outparcel expansion to the west in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s included Kroger and SupeRx Drugs, a small-shop building housing a Virginia ABC store, a free-standing K&W Cafeteria, and a drive-thru for Colonial American National Bank.  The mall even erected a massive replica of St. Louis’s famed Gateway Arch as its sign along Hershberger Road.


Crossroads developer Steele was able to parlay his success into two other malls in the greater Roanoke area:  Tanglewood Mall, built in 1973, was a larger mall located 9 miles south of Crossroads in affluent southwest Roanoke County.  Tanglewood’s opening crippled Towers Shopping Center for a short period, since both malls were within two miles of each other and Tanglewood was clearly the larger, fancier and more-modern center.  University Mall in nearby Blacksburg opened in 1974 and was much smaller than Crossroads. It catered to the college students at Virginia Tech and local residents.


About the time Steele’s malls had come into their own, developer Henry Faison proposed a substantial new shopping center called Valley View Mall that would be built on a large tract of land at the intersection of I-581 and Hershberger within a mile of Crossroads.  The new mall was located in the “clear zone” for the local airport and was hotly contested for many years but by 1982, Faison had won approval for his plans and prepared for a 1985 opening. 


It seems as soon as Valley View started construction, problems arose at Crossroads Mall.  Between 1980 and 1985, store vacancies began to increase, including the loss of large anchors Winn-Dixie (1981), Woolco (1982) and Roses (1984).  The mall’s décor and marketing became increasingly tired and new trendy stores were signing to Valley View and Tanglewood rather than locating at Crossroads, even if it meant waiting a year or two to open.  Crossroads rebounded somewhat when Kmart signed on for most of the Woolco space in 1983, but it was clearly in crisis, especially when JCPenney announced it was leaving Crossroads for a larger, more modern store at Valley View.  To be sure, Roanoke-Salem Plaza was also experiencing occupancy troubles, but the problems at that center stemmed more from poor management and neighborhood changes than competition.


July 17, 1985 is a day that will live in Roanoke retail infamy.  That day, Valley View Mall opened its doors and effectively killed Crossroads Mall’s hopes of ever being a regional retail destination again.  Crossroads lost half of its stores by that day and nearly half of the remaining stores within two years as leases expired.  It still fared better than Roanoke-Salem Plaza, which was already ailing and lost nearly all of its stores.


New ownership christened the center Crossroads Consumer Mall, renovated the interior and attempted to attract discount stores and outlets.  Although the renovation added a food court and helped the mall land Circuit City and Waccamaw Pottery, among others, there was an eerie silence that enveloped the interior of the mall (and still does to this day) as stores continued to leave and the replacements generated fewer and fewer customers.  The construction of another strip shopping center, Towne Square, behind Crossroads along Airport Road brought few positive residual effects for the mall.  In fact, Heironimus defected to Towne Square in 1990.


Along with Heironimus, the “Consumer” portion of Crossroads’ name was gone by the early ‘90s, as yet another owner, Zamias Services, began dismantling the small shop spaces and turning them into big-box spaces facing the outside, leaving a sad, empty interior promenade.  The vast parking lots that surrounded the mall were carved up by Zamias in an attempt to generate cash flow.  McDonald’s and Blockbuster helped cover up what was left of Crossroads Mall’s exterior which had been painted white to mask the effects of age. 


Today, Crossroads Mall is occupied but effectively dead.  The anchors are Books-A-Million, Circuit City, Kmart, Goody’s Family Clothing, Dollar-Duz-It and Jo-Ann Fabrics.  Other tenants include the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Rugged Warehouse and K&W Cafeteria.  Of these tenants, only the DMV still has a mall entrance.  All but three of the interior shops are vacant.  Amazingly, original tenant Pete’s Deli is still there and going strong.  Tenants are struggling due to the abundance of other shopping options nearby at Valley View and Towne Square.  There will be even less of a reason to choose Crossroads when Circuit City relocates to Valley View in early 2005. 


Crossroads Mall’s future is likely as office space.  Roanoke-based Advance Auto Parts took over the former Waccamaw Pottery space (vacant since 1998) in 2000 and relocated some of its corporate offices there.  As the mall empties out (the DMV is currently looking to leave Crossroads when its lease expires) Advance Auto is taking up more space.  With little to no new retail headed for the site as it stands, Crossroads could become the corporate headquarters for an auto parts chain.  It’s not a fitting end, but it is a resolution.