Author Archives: Edward Plenge

As Norfolk plans for future, Military Circle Mall courts small businesses

Military Circle Mall is in the midst of a transformation.

Three years after the shopping center lost its last major anchor tenant, Macy’s, the space is a mix of small businesses, bargain clothing stores, a movie theater and converted office space.

While Norfolk economic development officials want to see the property eventually redeveloped, for now, the mall is attracting new businesses, with at least 22 set to open this year.

“Big-box retail nationally is changing, and we don’t see this as being a big-box retail site” said Norfolk’s interim economic director, Jared Chalk.

The mall’s woes started years before Macy’s closed in 2016. Sears left in 2012. J.C. Penney followed in 2014. In 2015, a company hired to protect the mall’s investors foreclosed on the property.

A Doubletree Hotel on the property closed in 2009 and never reopened. That space is listed for sale by S. L. Nusbaum for $3 million.

On a Thursday afternoon in early August, the mall wasn’t completely devoid of life. Customers mosied down to the Cinemarkmove theater to buy matinee tickets. Others ate in the food court, or got their hair cut at Ashanti’s Hair Studio.

Fly Girl Boutique owner Latricia Harrison moved into her space at the mall around four years ago, when mall management recruited the business as a potential tenant. Over the last few years, Harrison said new tenants have indeed been coming to the mall.

“They are bringing in small businesses,” Harrison said. “I’ve noticed an increase in small businesses in the last couple of years.”

Harrison, who also has retail locations in Greenbrier Mall and Chesapeake Square, said her Military Circle store has helped build her clientele.

“It gave me a platform where I could grow,” she added.

The mall had around 52 store spaces and 280,536 square feet available for rent in May, according to a site plan from property management company Pacific Retail Capital Partners. A recent walk around the mall showed at least 49 spaces occupied by businesses.

Mall general manager Chataun Porch said in an email that at least 22 new businesses were slated to open this year. Of those, 12 are open already and 10 more are coming soon. The new tenants go beyond standard mall fare like clothing and department stores: They include a boxing gym, a beauty spa and even a car detailing service.

“Our goal has always been to give back to the community in a meaningful way, which includes being a catalyst for small business owners as well as hosting locally driven, family friendly events,” Porch said. “It creates an energy felt throughout the community that brings in existing and new customers.”

As anchor stores were exiting Military Circle, Norfolk development leaders began to think about the future of the property. The Norfolk Economic Development Authority purchased the former J.C. Penney building for $2.5 million in 2014. In 2017, Optima Health began to lease office space there and Movement Mortgage opened an operations center.

“That was a really strategic purchase that allowed us to control 16 acres and start to change what we believe the future should be out there,” Chalk said.

Pulling out an overhead photograph of the area, Chalk said city leaders are very interested in helping facilitate redevelopment of the property. In 2016, the city completed a study imagining the area 50 years in the future as an urban, mixed-use community with a light-rail stop and multifamily housing.

He said economic development leaders are working with private entities to potentially convert the former Sears and Macy’s sites. The city has also put the J.C. Penney location up for sale for $22 million. The idea is to free up some of the debt on the property.

“It’s a big, complex puzzle, essentially,” Chalk said.

He didn’t offer a timetable for the transformation but said “It’s not anything that’s going to happen overnight.”

Movement and Optima probably won’t be going anywhere in the near future, though. Movement has signed a lease through November 2030, and Optima plans to occupy its space through August 2024, according to the commercial real estate listing with Colliers International.

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Gourmet Burger Bistro opens location in Military Circle Mall

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A Portsmouth restaurant is hoping to bring big crowds to Military Circle Mall in Norfolk.

Gourmet Burger Bistro opened a second location at the mall on Saturday.

Owner Major Mahoney says a young woman approached him about coming to Norfolk. He says she hoped he could bring some of his positive energy to the area.

“Get to give jobs out to the community, and we’re trying to bring life back to the mall the way it was, you know what I mean,” said Mahoney. “So it feels good to come back to Norfolk, trying to give this good energy, these good vibes back to a neighborhood that was once vibrant at one time.”

Mahoney says the new restaurant is also an opportunity to continue to give back to the Hampton Roads community.

The restaurant will be open seven days a week and do a Sunday brunch once a month.

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Entrepreneur to open skin care store in Military Circle

By Trevor Metcalfe 

Jamie Skinner was frustrated.

The Norfolk businesswoman was tired of searching for skin care solutions. Skinner would attempt to treat eczema problems on her children, just to have a product cause an allergic reaction.

So, Skinner said she began to do her research and learn how to create compounds using natural ingredients. Suddenly, other friends and family members were beginning to ask her for help.

Just a few short months later, Skinner’s skin care business Shark City Naturals is almost ready to open its first-ever storefront in Norfolk’s Military Circle mall.

“I planned it with this one particular formula, and it worked, so I stuck with it,” Skinner said. “I just kept building off of that.”

At the new store, Skinner is still setting some up displays and posters, but an identity is beginning to take shape. Set to open on Aug. 10, the space is bright, colorful and filled with skin care products, plants and shark stuffed animals.

One shea butter product is called “LL Cool Shea.” Other items for sale include bath bombs, soap, after-sun spray and lotion.

When she was just getting going, Skinner said she began to realize that so many people in the area suffered from acne, razor burn and other skin ailments. She began a quest to educate her community on skin care. Shark City began to set up stalls at trade shows and other events like the Chesapeake Jubilee in May.

“When you know better, you do better,” Skinner said.

Skinner also wants to be transparent about all the ingredients used in her products. The company manufactures the products locally at the Culinary Loft training and incubator facility in Norfolk.

“We want you to be aware so that you can make the right decision,” Skinner said.

Fellow business owner Latricia Harrison, who operates Fly Girl Boutique, clued Skinner into the available space at Military Circle. Skinner said she jumped at the chance to help revitalize a location she remembers shopping at back in its heyday.

“I grew up at this mall,” she said. “It’s a place that we love.”

Skinner and her husband Danell Skinner have also owned and operated an environmental cleaning company called Diverse Buildings Associates for more than a decade. Danell has a roll in designing Shark City’s logo and graphic design, but as Skinner puts it, the project is “her baby.”

The store plans to host a grand opening 10 a.m.to 9 p.m. Aug. 10. For more information, visit SharkCityNaturals.com.

See original story HERE

Gourmet Burger Bistro Opening Soon

Major Mahoney likes to go where people don’t expect.

He says there was little else in the area when he and his sister, Tyisha Baskerville, opened their now wildly popular Gourmet Burger Bistro on its little mini-mall stretch of High Street in Portsmouth’s Churchland neighborhood.

“Nobody would have said back then this is a nice area,” Mahoney says.

But three years later, the parking lot is full of cars, a few more businesses have opened nearby, and the Bistro is wall-to-wall at weekday lunch hours and weekend brunch.

This June, he’s hoping he and his family can transport that same magic to a second location in Norfolk.

He’ll be bringing the Burger Bistro’s fried chicken wings and impossibly stacked Empire burgers to another location many would consider a challenge: Military Circle Mall.

Representatives from the mall approached him this year about the idea. At the time, he was considering opening his second location in downtown Norfolk. He was skeptical of the mall at first.

“I thought, ‘Man, that mall is dead,'” he remembers.

He had fond memories of hanging out there when the mall was what he calls “the Norfolk stomping grounds,” but hadn’t been there since the Macy’s department store closed in 2016.

“Then I went down to see for myself, and I said, I see opportunity here… I looked up and saw that big glass sunroof and I thought, ‘This is life.’ We’re gonna bring some life back in here.”

Mahoney hopes his restaurant can be part of a renaissance in how people see Military Circle, the same way he says the Burger Bistro’s success helped other entrepreneurs see possibility in an overlooked stretch of Churchland.

Part of it, he says, is re-creating the same hospitality and family feeling that brings regulars back to the restaurant in Portsmouth, where Mahoney greets every customer that comes in with a warm hello and maybe a fist bump.

“We got Amazon, we got Walmart, we got people that deliver food now,” he says, describing the market forces that have moved commerce from shopping malls to online ordering forms.

“But you can’t sell hospitality online. You can’t turn good food into a vending machine. You can’t do it. I don’t care how you try to cut that. You still need a human being to serve another human being.”

Even inside Military Circle, he hopes to replicate the family feeling of his Portsmouth restaurant, where they sell Gourmet Burger Bistro-branded T-shirts and use the proceeds to offer free meals to neighborhood kids in the summertime.

He’ll hire servers to bring food out to customers, and brand the restaurant’s seating area with wraps over the tables. He also hopes to bring his restaurant’s trademark green umbrellas out for brunch service, when the restaurant serves its rich french toast, made-to-order waffle squares and decadently cheesy grits.

At his grand opening planned for June, Mahoney plans to bring his burger truck out to the parking lot, cut a green ribbon in an opening ceremony, and then hand out 500 free burgers to the first customers.

Many of his customers already drive from Norfolk to Portsmouth, he says, and so he wants to bring his restaurant close to where they live. But he also chose Military Circle because its location at 880 N. Military Highway is at a busy nexus of Hampton Roads.

“We got a strong base out there (in Norfolk), and we got a strong base in Hampton. But we chose Norfolk because one thing about that city, everybody some way, somehow ends up going to that city.”

He hopes the new Burger Bistro can re-create the sense of community his family has built in Portsmouth.

“This is like the meeting ground that everybody comes to, you know?” Mahoney says of the Portsmouth location. “The police department comes here. We got the firefighters. We got the people in the mayor’s office. You know, even the health department comes in here to eat. You know how rare that is?”

Matthew Korfhage, 757-446-2318,  matthew.korfhage@pilotonline.com

Original Story HERE