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Paying my last respects to Staunton Mall…

December 14, 2020, 9:00 AM

On a recent trip to Augusta County, Elyse and I stopped over at Staunton Mall to pay our last respects to the place.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall recently changed owners, and in late November, the new owners gave all of the remaining tenants a 30-day notice to vacate, except for Belk.  The last day of operation for Staunton Mall will be December 24.  So we stopped in and documented the place fairly extensively.  Before I get started, please note that this Journal entry will be a very high-level look at the mall.  I took over 1,200 photos of the interior and exterior of the mall, including at least one photo of every single storefront, and I’m going to give the place a more complete treatment as a photo set for Life and Times.  But this ought to hold everyone for now, because the more complete treatment is going to take a while to put together.

The thing about photographing retail settings is that stores typically don’t like it when you photograph in their facilities.  The usual reason cited is to protect trade secrets, which is usually bunk, because, as I understand it, a company has to put actual effort into keeping trade secrets a secret.  If it is in plain view of the public, then it is not a trade secret.  But that doesn’t stop stores from chasing off photographers.  After all, it is private property, and they can choose to exclude whatever activities that they want.  For my purposes, it just means that I have to be a bit more stealthy when I photograph, and shoot with my phone rather than with the big camera.  The way that I typically operate when I do this is to go from lower risk to higher risk as far as getting caught goes.  After all, once a place gets wise to me, the photo shoot is over, because they’ll never leave me alone again as long as I remain there.  In this case, since I had the drone, I considered the aerial photography to be the least risky as far as getting caught goes, since I could accomplish that mostly from off of the property.  Then after I finished flying around the mall, I photographed the exterior from the car with my real camera.  Then I went inside the mall and did my documentation of the interior with my phone.  I suspected that I wouldn’t have any issues with security personnel based on reports from others that there were no security people to begin with, and I was pleased that this ended up remaining the case.  I’ve seen so many cases where stores and/or entire shopping centers are closing, and employees still get on people about photography.  I can’t help in those cases but to think, why do you still care?  After all, the people in question are losing their jobs soon, and so they’re continuing to defend their employer because… why?  No matter what you do, at the end of the day, you’re still losing your job.  So why are you still loyal to and defending a company that clearly has no loyalty to you?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

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Categories: Staunton, Staunton Mall

Renting out eight rooms…

September 30, 2017, 12:29 AM

So apparently, I spoke too soon when it came to the closure of The Inn at Afton.  You may recall that last month, I announced the closure of The Inn at Afton, based on a sign that said that the lobby and hotel were closed.  Elyse and I went down that way again on Wednesday, and one of our stops was to see how The Inn at Afton looked in the daylight after finally going out of business for good.  Much to our surprise, we found that the place was open again.  We stopped into room 211, which was being used as the lobby, and had a chat with the lady working inside.  As it turns out, the hotel is barely operational, with only eight rooms, all on the parking lot side, in service.  None of the rooms on the other side, which has a tremendous view of the piedmont, are in service.  I’m told that the remaining rooms have been stripped, and a walk past some of the first-floor rooms that are not in service seems to confirm this.  That means that out of 118 total rooms, 110 of them are out of service, presumably for being uninhabitable.  That’s an availability of 6.7%.  For that few rooms, it hardly seems worthwhile to remain open, but apparently, they do, likely out of habit.

Meanwhile, the room being used as the lobby smelled strongly of mold, and had visible mold and water damage.  Definitely an unhealthy environment.  We might have stuck around for longer and chatted with the very nice lady working there, but the mold smell was too much.  I imagine that the rooms that are still in service are just as bad, if they are willing to let the room that they’re using as a lobby become so bad.  Thank heavens for Orbit “Bubblemint” gum.  It got the mold taste out of my mouth.

So apparently, and much to my surprise, just when we thought that the book had closed on the operational history of the vintage businesses on Afton Mountain, there’s more to the Afton story to be told.

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Returning to Scott’s house…

December 30, 2016, 11:29 PM

You know how it goes when you have like-minded friends.  On December 28, Elyse and I got together with mutual friend Aaron Stone, and we took a field trip to the Baltimore area, revisiting various places of interest in order to show Aaron, including the Ames at Diamond Point Plaza and Scott’s house.  The way that we planned the trip, since our main objectives were mostly dependent on having daylight, the plan was to spend a little time at Diamond Point, a little bit of time at H&H Outdoors (a military surplus store in Baltimore), and then have a large block of time at the Bauers’.

The Ames at Diamond Point was, for the most part, unchanged from our previous visit.  We spotted a set of movable stairs near the front of the store that wasn’t there in our previous visits, but otherwise, it was the same:

Ames in Diamond Point Plaza

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A shopping center full of what once was…

October 21, 2015, 8:40 PM

On Thursday, October 15, my friend Elyse and I went to check out a rare thing in the area of retail: an abandoned Ames store, with the signage mostly intact, just outside Baltimore.  For those of you not familiar, Ames was a chain of discount department stores, operating, for the most part, in the northeastern United States.  Through the course of its history, Ames acquired and absorbed two other retail chains, purchasing Zayre in 1988, and Hills in 1998, converting stores from their original names to the Ames brand.  And each of these acquisitions was a contributing factor to bankruptcies.  The Zayre acquisition led to a bankruptcy that lasted from 1990 to 1992, after which the company emerged and returned to profitability.  The Hills acquisition led to a bankruptcy in 2001, which led to the chain’s demise in 2002.

The last we heard of Ames was this final voicemail:

Um, just a couple reminders.  Payroll needs to be called in by 10 AM on Monday.  Um, you can call it in at any point.  Leave a message on your payroll representative’s, uh, voice mailbox, um, either with the hours worked, or for salaried associates, number of days worked.  Um, you can call that in at any time between Saturday night and Monday morning by 10 AM.  Please make sure that the mail, um, post office, has been notified of the forwarding address to the Ames home office, 2418 Main Street, Rocky Hill, Connecticut, 06067.  Once again, uh, when leaving the building, um, set the perimeter alarms, bypass the motion.  This will, uh, help reduce the number of false alarms after we vacate.  Interior lights should be shut off by the breaker, leaving only a few night lights on, scattered around on the salesfloor.  The vacate checklist, notate anything that is left, um, from the fixture liquidator, such as any telephone equipment or ticketing equipment.  If they haven’t sold it, it will be left where it is.  The main thing with all of the fixtures and anything that has not sold is that it be left in the building neatly.  Once again, the final vacate checklist.  The photos, stamps, should be forwarded to my attention, and mailed by Tuesday, November 12.  Once again, I’d like to thank everybody for all their help and cooperation over the past few months, and I wish everybody the very best of luck in the future.

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“Not fooling anybody” in DC…

October 31, 2014, 11:50 AM

This past Saturday, I did some photography in Washington DC, but not the usual sort of photography that I do when I head into DC.  This time, I photographed repurposed commercial buildings, i.e. buildings constructed with the standard architecture for a specific chain, and now operated by a business other than the one that the architecture would suggest.  “Not Fooling Anybody” on Reddit, where people share photos of such conversions, describes it as “former chain businesses that have been converted to other uses, yet still strongly resemble their former use.”  Some people might call these bad conversions, but I prefer to call them “obvious conversions”.  After all, some conversions can look quite elegant, such as Italiano’s in Baltimore, which is a former KFC, but nonetheless still resemble the former tenant’s distinctive style.

It’s also worth noting that these sorts of buildings have no historical value of any kind, so they’re worth photographing while they’re still there, because they will be demolished when someone comes up with a more lucrative use for the land.

For this trip, I did my research.  I had assembled a list of some places that I had spotted over the course of going wherever over the years, and then augmented that with some others that the folks on the DC subreddit brought to my attention, particularly on some corridors that I had never had any reason to travel under normal circumstances, such as Bladensburg Road and Benning Road.  I then used Google Street View to visually verify all of the suggestions so that I knew what to look for in the field, plus I also did a virtual drive down a few roads using Street View to see if there were any others, as some corridors tend to be just teeming with them.

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I completely nerded out on Sunday, and it was awesome…

June 24, 2014, 10:21 PM

I went out on a miniature road trip on Sunday, and I had a blast, taking photos of anything that vaguely interested me.  It was more or less spur of the moment, when you consider that for what ended up being a photography trip, I only had my cell phone, and then, I didn’t bring my spare battery along.  Thus it was a bit of a continual battle to keep a sufficient charge on the phone with only the car charger, but somehow, I managed, and the results came out pretty well despite my leaving my real camera at home.  The way this trip came about is that I wanted to go up to and explore Westminster, Maryland.  I’ve been wanting to explore Westminster for a while, ever since my father took an overnight business trip to Westminster a few years ago and I didn’t find out about it until it was too late in the day to go up and visit, because Dad didn’t realize that Westminster was as close to me as it was.  That sucked, because I would have totally gone up if I had known.  I’ll gladly travel an hour or so on relatively short notice to hang out with family.

So early Sunday morning, I just decided to go up and see what there was.  I like doing these sorts of trips, because it’s basically a scouting trip, seeing if there’s anything that I want to explore and photograph in more detail in the future.  Getting to Westminster is pretty easy: turn onto Georgia Avenue (MD 97) and take it all the way to Westminster.  Seriously, it’s that easy.  I got to Westminster just as the sun was coming up.  After a quick drive through the main commercial area along Route 140, I located the downtown area.

The downtown area in Westminster has what I consider an unusual feature: a single-track rail line for the Maryland Midland Railway running diagonally through the main intersection in downtown.  Main Street goes one way, and Liberty Street and Railroad Avenue (both MD 27) go the other way, and the rail line runs diagonally across the intersection.  I would have loved to have seen a train come through here while I was in the area, but unfortunately, I did not get to see that this time.

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Staunton Mall sold for $4.5 million?

March 15, 2014, 10:16 AM

So according to The News VirginianThe News Leader, and WHSV, Staunton Mall has been sold to a Delaware LLC for $4.5 million.  Little is known about the new buyer or their intent, however, according to The News Leader, “The sale includes permits for development and land rights and assignment of leases, rents, deposits, profits and other agreements.”  This makes me wonder if someone is finally planning to redevelop Staunton Mall into something better and/or more modern.  At this point, we can only speculate. That said, Staunton Mall does look pretty dismal right now, shown in this file photo from January:

Staunton Mall, from center court facing south towards JCPenney, January 2014

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Categories: Staunton, Staunton Mall

Irresponsible beyond belief…

November 8, 2013, 6:16 PM

So this past Monday, I took a day trip down to Augusta County with my friend Pete.  All in all, we had a fun time.  We had lunch at Barracks Road in Charlottesville, I showed Pete the cluster of abandoned buildings on Afton Mountain owned by local businessman Phil Dulaney, we hiked up to Humpback Rock, and we stopped by my parents’ house before heading north again via I-81.

When we visited the abandoned buildings on Afton Mountain, I pointed out the building that had the tree growing through it, we quickly looked at the Howard Johnson’s, but our visit focused mainly on this building:

Former Skyline Parkway Motor Court guest building, now covered in graffiti

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And this is what Shenandoah Acres looks like now…

September 21, 2012, 9:01 PM

So while I was out and about today, I got new photos of Shenandoah Acres as a follow-up to my previous Journal entry on Shenandoah Acres.  And if you ask me, it was kind of depressing.  Take a look:

One of two platforms in the lake, and the 1997 beach house.  To give you an idea of the normal lake level, the platform was less than a foot above the water level, and the platform was completely surrounded by water.
One of two platforms in the lake, and the 1997 beach house.  To give you an idea of the normal lake level, the platform was less than a foot above the water level, and the platform was completely surrounded by water.

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What to do with Shenandoah Acres?

September 2, 2012, 8:39 PM

For the last few years, I have been involved in a Facebook group called “Remembering Shenandoah Acres“.  This group is built around discussing memories of times spent at the Shenandoah Acres resort in Stuarts Draft that closed after the 2004 season, but most discussions anymore center around complaining about the state that the property is now in.

For those not familiar, Shenandoah Acres was a facility that billed itself as “America’s Finest Inland Beach”, owned and operated by the Blacka family for many years.  It had a campground, there were cabins, and a motel building on the property.  The facility also had tennis courts, trail rides on horseback, and miniature golf.  However, the centerpiece of the facility was a manmade lake with a beach around it, playground equipment in the water (including one slide about two or three stories high), and a large tower in the center that offered a zip line ride.  The facility was a popular tourist attraction, and the lake was also very popular with locals during the summer season.

In the years that I’ve been familiar with the facility, one of the merry go rounds in the water was replaced in 1995 by “Clyde the Slyde”, which was a small slide built inside a dinosaur sculpture, and the zip lines were dismantled in the late 1990s or early 2000s and replaced with the “Pink Zipper” water slide.  Additionally, the roof of the original beach house collapsed due to excessive snowfall in 1997, and was replaced with a new structure slightly to the northeast of the original.  The facility closed after the 2004 season because, according to the owner at the time, whom my family went to church with, the cost of insurance finally became too much to bear.  My family went to Shenandoah Acres from 1993 until about 1996.

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…and later, Chuck E. Cheese!

May 11, 2012, 10:37 PM

After spending a few hours at Montgomery Mall where we got Adelle’s bear, among other things, Mom and I headed home, and then later, for dinner, headed over to the Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in Laurel, Maryland.

Now you’re probably thinking: aren’t you a little old for Chuck E. Cheese’s? Answer is, yes, probably so. But we had a good time. It had been just over 20 years since the last time that any of us went to one of these sorts of places, and so this was the time to revisit some fun childhood memories. In fact, the Laurel location was specifically chosen because it was a former Showbiz Pizza location, and had the three-stage setup just like at the Showbiz Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas that we used to go to when Sis and I were growing up. Recall for a moment, from 1987 in Fayetteville, on the occasion of the party for my sixth birthday:

Billy Bob's stage, with the "Smitty's Super Service Station" background.
Billy Bob’s stage, with the “Smitty’s Super Service Station” background.

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And the photos are in…

May 21, 2011, 9:26 PM

I certainly had fun on my vacation week! I went swimming on Monday, sat around like a bum on Tuesday, headed to Stuarts Draft on Wednesday, photographed on Afton Mountain on Thursday, and then went to Kings Dominion and Potomac Mills on Friday. Plus I finished the Plungefest 2011 photo set in Photography across a few days’ time.

When I went down to Stuarts Draft, I headed down via US 29 through Charlottesville. Technically speaking, on my route, you just nick the top of the city itself, but spend a lot of time in the Charlottesville metropolitan area. I think the total time spent within the city limits is about two minutes, depending on whether or not the traffic lights like you. Arriving in Stuarts Draft, I first stopped at Stuarts Draft Middle School, where I attended middle school and where Mom now teaches eighth grade. Checking in at the office, I noticed that they had the cover off the master clock, due to the need to manually sound the tones because of SOL testing. So I got a photo:

The master clock at Stuarts Draft Middle School, a Lathem LTR4-128.

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“Oh, it’s terrible! The King has been transformed! Please find the Magic Wand so we can change him back.”

November 27, 2010, 4:31 PM

First of all, I admit – the title doesn’t mean much in relation to this entry, except that it perhaps reflects that I’ve been playing too much Super Mario Bros. 3 on my Super Nintendo lately. Regardless, this Journal entry has been a long time in coming, since this is about a trip I took to Stuarts Draft two weeks ago. All I have to say is, hey, I’ve been busy. But it’s also somewhat fitting that I post this entry this weekend, since this was “Thanksgiving” with the parents a couple of weeks ahead of the holiday. Traffic is a real pain, you see, and this obviates the need to mess with it. Have you ever driven US 29 in Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend? It’s no walk in the park.

On Friday the 12th, after driving perhaps a shade too fast the whole way down, I arrived at Stuarts Draft Middle School. After all, Mom was there, and I hadn’t seen her new classroom yet. Mom was recently switched from sixth to eighth grade, and so she moved rooms as a result, from Room 24 to Room 1. And here it is:

Mom's new classroom, Room 1

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So I am now the proud father of a Motorola Droid…

January 19, 2010, 12:27 AM

So I got my Droid today. I now have what I describe as the iPhone for people who don’t want an iPhone. This thing has the touch screen, it has Wi-Fi, it has downloadable apps and games, and it has a five-megapixel camera.

Yes, five megapixels. That’s right – my cell phone just out-megapixeled the late Big Mavica (which was four-megapixel). That’s obscene. My cell phone still slots below my real cameras, though. Duckie has six, and the Canon does ten. And take a look at a sample of its work:

Digging up the floor at Staunton Mall

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Categories: Cell phone, Staunton Mall

Okay, I’m calling it – Staunton Mall is toast.

May 2, 2009, 1:36 PM

Okay, I’m calling it. Staunton Mall is a dying mall, if not already basically a dead mall. I was in there on Friday with Katie, and I believe there are now more empty locations than there are full ones. Steve and Barry’s, in an anchor spot, is gone. Books-A-Million is gone, in another large spot. KB Toys is gone, as part of the chain’s complete closure earlier this year. The former Piece Goods location has never been filled for any appreciable length of time since Piece Goods left. The old CVS/Pharmacy location is still empty after more than two years since CVS moved to a freestanding location nearby.

Additionally, Peebles, while open, is in deplorable shape, with visibly worn tiles, stained and worn carpet, and stained ceiling tiles. That location needs to be renovated badly, but I doubt that Stage Stores (which owns Peebles) will invest in it, considering that all they did when it changed to Peebles from Stone and Thomas was change the nameplate, change some interior signage, and wall in a gift-wrapping counter. Meanwhile, the Belk store in Staunton Mall has never been remodeled since I’ve been there, aside from changes related to when the store changed its nameplate from Leggett to Belk in 1997 or so. It, however, looks to be in better shape than Peebles, but partly because the lighting is somewhat darker in there, and thus it hides the aging. Still, it certainly says a lot about what a company thinks about certain locations when they don’t bother to ever remodel or update them, while remodeling and updating other locations, sometimes multiple times.

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