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Lots and lots of rubble…

December 21, 2022, 10:54 AM

You may remember that in my last Staunton Mall update, I said, speaking of the mall as it might appear in December, “I would not be surprised if the demolition was complete by then, and we’re looking at an empty slab plus Belk at that time.  I suppose that we’ll all find out together whether I’m right or not.”  Now that the December trip down that way is over with, I can say that I was not correct.  The demolition has certainly progressed, but as of December 16, the work is still by no means complete, though there is now more rubble than there is intact structure.

For this update, I once again did a flyover of the mall with the drone to get both overview and detailed shots of the former Staunton Mall.  I started with the overview:

Overview of Staunton Mall, facing southeast.

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And the outer walls begin to fall…

November 3, 2022, 8:09 AM

On October 26, Elyse and I took a one-day trip down to Augusta County in order to change to the “permanent temporary solution” for my car problem, i.e. Mom’s Scion xB, following the HR-V’s untimely demise in an accident two and a half weeks prior.  I don’t necessarily like doing these sorts of trips in a single day because it’s a lot of driving and I’m not 25 anymore, but that’s all I had time for based on my schedule.  I also couldn’t really postpone this trip, because things were going to get a bit more expensive for me if I didn’t do this trip when I did.  For those not familiar, when you have Progressive for your insurance and your car is totaled, your rental coverage ends three days after you are notified of your car’s total loss.  That notification occurred while Elyse and I were on a weeklong trip to Tennessee, and so Progressive, taking my length of time as a customer (18 years!) into consideration, they extended my coverage until the day after we got back from our trip.  Then Enterprise Rent-A-Car would let me pay the insurance rate for my rental for another week beyond that, after which I would have to pay the (much higher) retail rate.  My original plan was to switch cars on the way back home, returning the rental car in Staunton, and then doing the last leg of the return trip in Mom’s car.  As the trip continued on, though, I soon realized that we would be cutting it far too close with that plan, considering that it was also our Roanoke day, so I opted to postpone the car swap by a week and do the visit with my parents on the way home as we had planned to do it prior to the accident, i.e. it would just be a visit.  So the primary focus of this trip was just to swap cars, on the day that the retail rate would have gone into effect, i.e. if you don’t return this car right now, you will be paying a lot more for it going forward.  The addition of this new trip down also changed the plans for the last day of the Tennessee trip.  Since there would now be an extra trip down to Staunton, I skipped a Staunton Mall update that I had planned for the return trip to save time, since I would be going right there the following week.

For this particular Staunton Mall visit, noting the pace of the progress that I had observed in June, August, and September, I already had a decent idea about what to expect.  I figured that by my next visit, the remainder of the mall’s interior would be gone, and they would probably then start working on demolishing the exterior walls, which had remained mostly intact up to this point, which meant that Staunton Mall still largely looked like Staunton Mall from the road during most of the demolition up to that point.  I also knew that I didn’t have much time on site this time around, and that the demolition crew would more than likely be on the property.  Therefore, this was to be a high-level visit solely by drone, flown from well above the property where I could see my vehicle around the entire mall without having to reposition myself, and staying well clear of the demolition crew, since I didn’t want to get in their way at all, and I also didn’t have any time to discuss any special access with them, as I did in September to photograph what remained of the mall’s interior.  All of that said, I made a quick ten-minute flight where I flew from the Orchard Hill Square shopping center across the street, and made a pass across the front of the mall, looped around the entire property, and then dipped down near the Belk entrance where there were no workers present for a momentary peek at that area before returning to the launch site.

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A little adventure in Virginia, mostly in the woods…

October 6, 2022, 8:06 AM

From September 13-15, Elyse and I had a little weekend adventure in Virginia, where we went down to Augusta County stayed in Staunton like we usually do.  This one was a little different than most because it was partly a solo adventure.  Prior to this trip, Elyse had been down in Roanoke attending to business related to a nonprofit that she volunteers with, so she traveled up from there on Amtrak, and we met up in Charlottesville.  My original plan was to go the easterly route down, taking I-95 to Fredericksburg and then taking Route 3, Route 20, US 15, and a few other routes that would take me through Locust Grove, Orange, and Gordonsville.  However, at the last minute, I had a change of heart, deciding that (A) I didn’t feel like wading through traffic on the Beltway or 95, (B) that easterly track would get me to Charlottesville far too early, meaning that I would have to kill time before Elyse would arrive, and (C) I had ideas that necessitated taking other routes.  So I took the westernmost route, which primarily utilizes I-81, and took the “alternate” version of that, which goes through Harpers Ferry and Charles Town in West Virginia via US 340, and then taking Route 7 to meet I-81 in Winchester.  Yes, I’m going north to head south, but the distance and time for going out to Harpers Ferry is almost the same as it is to go through Northern Virginia on I-66, so it works.

My first point of interest was a relatively obscure sign in the middle of a field in Verona:


Image: Google Street View

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An unexpected Staunton Mall update…

August 13, 2022, 10:00 AM

On Thursday, August 11, 2022, I made what you might call an unexpected trip down to Augusta County.  Since the previous Sunday, Elyse had been down in Roanoke attending to some business related to a nonprofit that she is involved with, and was supposed to come back on Wednesday evening via Amtrak.  However, due to some heavy thunderstorms across Virginia that day, her Amtrak train was significantly delayed due to flooding and fallen trees, which meant that she only got as far as Charlottesville before delays on top of more delays meant that she would not arrive in Washington for many hours.  She ended up getting off the train in Charlottesville, and stayed overnight at my parents’ house.  That was a strange thing, with Elyse sending me photos from my old bedroom and all, while I was at home in Maryland.  Then since I was off on Thursday, I ended up coming down there to scoop her up and bring her home.  I figured that this was a good excuse for a road trip, so I gathered up my DSLR and my drone and hit the road.  We did a lot of stuff on this one-day trip, including spending quality time with the parents, but photographically, my main push was to get another update for Staunton Mall, after I had previously given an update in June.

Since my last visit, the mall has continued to be hollowed out.  When I visited in June, the interior walls were mostly demolished, with only the exterior walls remaining, from JCPenney to just past the Peebles.  From the end of Peebles to Montgomery Ward was where most of the demolition was occurring, as the roof was off of the mall corridor, while the stores were mostly still there.  The Wards building and the Belk wing were still mostly intact.  Now, the Wards building has been hollowed out to the exterior walls, as has the Belk wing up to the mall entrance next to Family Barber & Beauty.  I imagine that there is a reason behind the way that they’re doing this, demolishing the interior while leaving the exterior mostly intact until the end, but I don’t know what the reason is.

I followed the same process that I did before when it came to documenting the demolition of Staunton Mall.  I first drove around the property in order to figure out what was worth checking out, and then took the drone up for some flights near the areas that I wanted to photograph.  After all, why send my soft, vulnerable little body in there where things are unstable and could fall on me, when I can send a robot in my place and live vicariously through its eyes, while remaining in a place of safety at all times.  In this case, I parked in front of Boston Beanery to check out the south end of the mall, and then repositioned in front of Family Barber & Beauty to do the north end of the mall.

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Staunton Mall demolition update…

June 10, 2022, 3:15 PM

This past weekend, while Elyse and I were on a trip down to Staunton, we visited Staunton Mall in order to check up on it to see how its redevelopment was going.  You may recall that Staunton Mall had been on a long, slow decline before finally closing in December 2020I published a photo set about the mall based on my final visit, documenting as much about the mall as I could so that it could be remembered, and including older photos from years past.  My last update was from July, and covered the fencing off of the mall building (sans Belk, which remains open), and asbestos abatement in some of the anchor spaces.

Now, demolition has begun in earnest, and a little more than half of the mall is gone.  Interestingly enough, the mall is being demolished from the inside out, as the interior walls and roof have, in large part, been demolished, but the exterior walls, as well as the spaces closest to those exterior walls, are mostly still intact and recognizable.  I have no idea why they’re doing it this way.  I would have expected the exterior walls to come down along with the rest of everything, as they’re clearly working from south to north.  The JCPenney end of the mall is mostly gone except for the exterior walls, while the section between the food court and Wards is only partly demolished, and the 1980s expansion is, for the most part, still intact.  And, of course, Belk remains open for business.

We visited the mall twice: once for Elyse, and once for me.  In Elyse’s case, she was going for something very specific: the panel in the elevator at the JCPenney store.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall was a one-level facility, however, the JCPenney store had a very small upper level on the west side of the building, which housed the store’s administrative offices.  It’s why the front side of the store was so much taller than the rest.  Elyse rode this elevator for the first time in 2016, and again in 2020 just before the store closed.

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A fence appears around Staunton Mall…

July 17, 2021, 8:44 AM

While Elyse and I were on that trip to Staunton that I discussed earlier, we stopped by Staunton Mall to check in on the progress there.  It would appear that the redevelopment plans for Staunton Mall are for real, because asbestos abatement appears to be happening in a few places, and a perimeter has been established around the building in preparation for demolition.  Recall that I declared Staunton Mall to be a dead mall back in 2009, but it took until 2020 for the mall to finally close.  That fence around the entire mall building, save for Belk, is a major step towards demolition and redevelopment.

Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.
Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.

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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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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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