First Person, Various Authors
EDITOR’S NOTE: With news of the purchase of Hilltop Mall by LBG Real Estate Companies and Aviva Investors, longtime Richmond residents reflect on their memories of the mall and their hopes for the future of the location.
When It Was Too Cold to Go to the Park
I remember going to Hilltop as a young child when they had the play structure at the center of the mall. My mom took us there when it was too cold to go to a park so that we could run around. We would go there at least once a week. We would walk around the stores and she would meet friends and chat while we played.
I remember going to my two favorite stores, Disney and Hello Kitty. It was also the place where we would go when my dad would get off early from work. It was a family-friendly place where parents were comfortable taking their kids.
It would be nice to see Hilltop be the place I remember as a child. A place where families can go and socialize, and actually have a decent place to shop. A place that brings the community together and that people have good things to say, and not the lonely, low-quality shopping center it has become.
Movies, Music and Learning to Drive With My Dad
When I was little, I remember coming to the mall with my mom and brother to watch movies at the dollar theaters. We would usually go after swimming at CCC.
In middle school and freshman year of high school, I visited Hilltop Mall more than ever. I remember taking the 72 bus with my friends on a weekly basis. This was back when Hilltop had two CD stores. I think when I was 14, I tried to buy one CD every week. My routine was to take the bus to Hilltop, buy a CD and a Cinnabon.
Then in my late teens, I remember going to Hilltop Mall with my dad on a regular basis while learning to drive. The long circular street around the mall and the massive parking lot made it an ideal place for a new driver to get comfortable.
Today, I still visit Hilltop Mall on a regular basis because I get my hair cut at Mark’s Barbershop upstairs. Most black Barbershops nowadays require you to get an appointment. That usually doesn’t work with my crazy schedule, so Mark’s is one of the only places I know I can just show up if I’m free and somebody (usually a barber who knows me well) will be able to give me a cut.
I’m concerned about small businesses like Mark’s that are still in the mall and hopeful that we can find a way to keep them there as we develop a new 21st Century commercial center for the city.
-Jael Myrick, Richmond City Councilmember
Playground and Pictures
I remember back in the ‘90s or early 2000s, going and playing in the playground that used to be there. It was a fun place for kids to play and adults to shop or converse with other members of the community while watching the children play.
The Hilltop Mall was also a common place to go take pictures with friends and family at the different photo shops.
I think it would be great to see the new building develop into something that the community can use and that boosts the local economy. So many people take their business to other places because Hilltop Mall has deteriorated.
-Claudia Rios Manzo
Before Cellphones, Hilltop Mall Was the Spot to Meet Up
As a kid there weren’t many places in Richmond for us to go. There was the corner store, some neighborhood center park up the street or Hilltop apartments we’d sneak into to go swimming. But whenever you wanted to enjoy a Friday night or a whole Saturday with your friends, Hilltop Mall was the spot.
This was when most teenagers weren’t fortunate enough to have cellphones to call each other. The mall was where you’d see anyone you were looking for, or meet anyone you’d been dreaming of.
All of our shopping for school clothes, weddings, proms, you name the occasion, Hilltop Mall had you covered. It was best place to be in my childhood and it’s been sad watching it fade away.
– Donté Clark
Selling New Kids on the Block Merchandise at JC Penney’s
I remember when the stores that were downtown started to close and move to the mall. I remember going into the mall and admiring the centerpiece and the fountain. My mom would take us; we did all of our shopping there. Sometimes we caught the bus and just hung out at the mall. It was a decent mall and had all of the popular stores and a movie theater. At times it had two theaters; the old one showed old movies for a cheaper price.
At 17, I got a job at JC Penney’s. I worked in the kids’ department. Remember New Kids on the Block? Well, JC Penney’s sold their merchandise exclusively. Even some of the members’ mothers made an appearance at the mall. The mall was packed that day. This was early ‘90s.
As the years passed, the stores began to close. The mall was no longer a place where I wanted to go.
I do most of my shopping in San Rafael and Walnut Creek. I don’t like seeing my tax dollars going to other cities and counties but they have the stores I like. I would like to see the mall adopt the Bay Street model. Shops, restaurants, housing and some public space for people to enjoy.
The Place to Go Around Here
I used to go hang out at Hilltop after school and on weekends, to do back to school and holiday shopping. That was the place to go around here. Both movie theaters would provide great movies to watch with friends. Now those movie theaters are a memory, and it’s a scavenger hunt to try to remember where they are still located… they are still there and waiting to come back to life!
I recently had the opportunity to see the old historic pictures of the mall and what it used to be, and looking at what is it now, and talking with the new owners to envision what it will become in the future.
This mall provided many great memories for our community. Working together with the new owners, we will be able to help create new great memories for our community again.
-Cesar Zepeda, President of the Hilltop District Neighborhood Council
Games, Videos, Music and Candy
I used to visit Hilltop Mall often when I was a kid and a teenager because there used to be a movie theatre there. It seemed like there were a lot more shops to visit. There used to be a variety like the gaming store, the video store, there was a music box store, there were a few other stores I used to visit there all the time. There was a Cinnabon that used to be there, there was a candy store where I used to go.
As time went on, a lot of them started to disappear. When I do go visit, it’s to go out to eat or have lunch with somebody. My favorite place there is the Mongolian BBQ place.
As a teenager there wasn’t any reason for me to go to the mall because there wasn’t anything there that captured my interest.
People have always expressed to me that our mall is just outdated. Even folks that actually live out here in Richmond tell me that they’d rather go to the Concord mall or to Hayward instead because they don’t have anything that attracts them to this mall. It could be the layout or it could be an outdated model but at the same time it could be a matter of what is available at that location that actually attracts people.
-Melvin Willis, Richmond City Council Member