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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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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

“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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So Katie and I had fun yesterday…

November 26, 2008, 5:23 PM

Katie and I went out and about in Staunton and Waynesboro yesterday, and we had fun. I can’t believe it had been three months since last I saw Katie, but indeed that was the case. But of course, that doesn’t mean we had any less fun.

First thing we did was go over to the nTelos store, since it was just about time to upgrade Katie’s cell phone, and so we were seeing what the scene looked like. I think Katie’s going to get a really good phone this time around – one with an on-board camera, and one that can do all of the cool things that cell phones can do nowadays. And I demonstrated the picture feature on one of the demo phones:

Katie at the nTelos store

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As you can see, “moon shoes” are not exactly something we can balance on…

June 3, 2007, 10:19 AM

I don’t know if you saw the splash page or not yet, but it shows me balancing on “moon shoes”…

Balancing on moon shoes

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I’ll bet you had no idea that the Blue Line ran to Staunton…

October 23, 2005, 6:59 PM

Yes – in this very strange dream that I had, Metro runs to Staunton, near where I live. Specifically, Staunton Mall. And specifically, the Blue Line.

In this dream, Mom and I were at Staunton Mall at night. We were out shopping, and I discovered that there was a Metro station at Staunton Mall. It was an elevated station, with side platforms similar to Eisenhower Avenue or West Hyattsville. So while Mom was telling me to hurry up and such, I went up and visited the station. Somehow, in this dream though, I wasn’t on the platform. I was in the trackbed. There were no “third rails” in the trackbed, for some reason. Go figure. After I’d crossed from one track to the other, Mom shouted to me that I was in the tracks and what if a train was coming. That’s when I decided to climb up onto the platform opposite where I originally was (which I was now standing next to). Then I noticed something to my right:

Train similar to the one in my dream

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Categories: Dreams, Staunton Mall, WMATA

It’s nice to just kind of go out on the town for a bit… the local town, that is.

January 14, 2005, 5:25 PM

It’s nice to go out on the town a bit. That’s what I did today. I had some errands to run, and went to both Staunton and Waynesboro in the process.

Note I say “local town”. You may recall that I go to Washington DC a lot, and spend a lot of time in that town, which hopefully will be my local town before too long. So I draw that distinction.

But anyway, I went out and about, which was fun. Went to Staunton Mall. I had lunch at “Hot Wok”, a Chinese restaurant in the mall. I’d never eaten a meal at Hot Wok before. It was good.

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A mall trip with Katie…

December 2, 2004, 10:50 AM

It’s very amusing what happens when two friends go to the mall sometimes. Take for instance, Katie and I, who are also coworkers at Wal-Mart. We went to the Staunton Mall, and basically had a blast.

One thing we did was have our pictures taken with Santa Claus:

Ben and Katie with "Santa Harry"

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Categories: Katie, Shopping, Staunton Mall