History of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall


The Downtown Mall is a dynamic centerpiece of Charlottesville, VA.  The Mall is on a closed portion of Main Street, extending from Ridge Street/McIntire Road on the west to 9th Street on the east.   The Charlottesville Omni Hotel is located at the west end of the Mall.   The east end of the Mall houses the Charlottesville Pavilion, where a variety of musical events can be heard at Friday’s After Five (for free!) from April until October. Other concerts and events are held at the Pavilion throughout the year. If you are having dinner at one of the restaurants on or near the Mall, then you may be entertained on your approach by musicians or even a juggler performing for tips.  During pleasant weather, there are many people strolling along the Mall or sitting on benches or in the open air part of several restaurants on the Mall, which gives the Mall a European feel most evenings of the week.

Local historian Coy Barefoot cites the following Daily Progress news article from October 29, 1959, as the beginning of the creation of the Downtown Mall: “The Parking and Traffic Committee of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Chamber of Commerce recommended today that city officials be asked to make a study of turning downtown Main Street into a mall restricted to pedestrians. This would mean removing the pavement on Main Street and replacing it with walkways and gardens”.[1]

As in many cities in the United States, the Downtown Mall was originally conceived  as a way to revitalize the city’s central core.  Due to the growth of suburban mall and strip shopping centers, development outside of the city center was occurring at a much faster rate.   The plan was for a new shopping, retail and events development area in central Charlottesville that would reverse this trend.[2]

The Central City Commission and City Counsel worked with the firm Lawrence Halprin & Associates to develop plans for what would become the Downtown Mall. Counsel voted 2-0 to approve the plans on March 18, 1974. Three members of Council had to recuse themselves because opponents of the project alleged they had a conflict of interest. The Mall project met with significant initial opposition initially. The project was “described as a boondoggle, a 2 million dollar mistake”.[3] Obviously the Downtown Mall was not a boondoggle as it is now a vibrant, essential piece of what makes Charlottesville such a unique place to live or visit.

Trees, shrubs and planters dot the brick paved streets of the Downtown Mall along with 120 shops. There is no shortage in the variety of food choices, with about thirty restaurants located in the historic buildings lining the streets of the Mall. During the spring, summer and fall, most restaurants offer outdoor dining under the large shade trees or near one of the numerous water features/fountains located on the brick paved streets. Having been a resident of the Albemarle County/Charlottesville area since 1999, the Downtown Mall has become a favorite spot of mine for a night out, dinner, entertainment, and shopping.  If you are visiting Charlottesville, the Downtown Mall should be a “must see” on you list of places to visit.

This summer the Charlottesville personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen will be honoring its 2012 Allen & Allen Hometown Heroes at the Fridays After Five Concert on the Downtown Mall featuring the band Houserockers on Friday August 17th. Come out and join us is recognizing some of Charlottesville’s finest.

[2] Same as footnote 1.
[3] Same as footnote 2.