Crossroads Mall Memory
Fifty years ago this week, Crossroads Mall became Roanoke Virginia's first shopping mall. It was located in what used to be a dairy farm between the Hershberger Road/Williamson Road intersection and the airport. I can remember seeing Holsteins graze there.
I was no stranger to buying stuff at that intersection, though. Years earlier, my friends and I would ride our bikes to Evan Drug Store where we'd buy a fountain Coke or maybe a comic book. I bought my first lipstick at Evans Drug Store. But Evans was a small store. The mall was big. At least we thought it was big at the time.
I was almost sixteen when Crossroads opened. Prior to its existence, going shopping meant catching the Williamson Road bus and riding downtown, a trip that took about a half-hour. You dressed up to go downtown in those days. In 1961, that meant an actual dress—or at least a skirt and blouse. Some women wore hats, gloves, and heels. Times were different then.
Downtown had the big department stores—Heironimus and Miller & Rhodes; several movie theaters—the American, the Jefferson, the Rialto, the Roanoke; the library; a bunch of dime stores—Kress, McLelland's, Woolworth, etc. Downtown had pretty much everything you'd want. No one had thought of K-Mart or Wal-Mart back then. Going downtown was a full-day event. You could window-shop along Jefferson Street and Campbell Avenue and venture into the stores whose window displays had caught your eye. Then you could grab a bit to eat and take in a movie.
When Crossroads opened, a lot of us ventured out to see what it was like. It was close enough to where I lived that I could walk there in a lot less time than a bus ride took. Inside the mall was an area of fountains and palm trees and other big plants surrounded by a low wall. There was a cafeteria, a Heironimus (but not like the multi-storied one downtown), a JC Penney, several dress stores, a drug store, and a cafeteria.
Because of all those benches and the cafeteria, a lot of old people hung out there. You'd see gray-haired gangs of them sitting on the wall and watching us. Naturally, no self-respecting young person would be caught inside the mall for very long. A mall was for old codgers! It wasn't long until we hopped back on the bus and headed for downtown Roanoke where the action was.
Alas, the malls killed downtown. A few months after Crossroads opened, Towers Shopping Center opened on the other side of town. Then Roanoke Salem Plaza, then some strip malls. In a few years, few folks—young or old—ventured downtown. Stores closed or moved to a mall. Even movie theaters moved to the mall.
Now I'm the age of those old codgers who used to sit on the Crossroads wall and benches. Do I go to the mall now? Not if I can help it! I hate breathing the stale mall air, and I sometimes have trouble making the long walk from the parking lot.
Besides, nowadays the malls are full of those noisy young whippersnappers.