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Once full of shoppers, and hopes, Hilltop Mall faces an uncertain future

on October 21, 2014

Hilltop Mall, once seen as a boost for economic revitalization of Richmond, now sits in limbo, awaiting the next buyer.

Michael Piazzola, general manager of real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, the management firm for the mall, said the bank that foreclosed the mall will place it up for sale at a day and time of its choosing.

“We have a database of several potential buyers, ” Piazzola said. ” We will contact them when the bank tells us to sell the property.”

Although there are rumors of foreign investors coming to the rescue, the bank has not set a date to sell the mall yet, he added.

And this leaves Richmond residents with mixed emotions. Martin Sarkis, 30, a Richmond-born resident said that he has seen some big changes at Hilltop Mall since the 1980s.

“Hilltop mall will always have a special part in my heart because of all the memories,” said Sarkis. “Hilltop Mall sure went through many changes throughout the years. Unfortunately they are changes going downhill.”

“I’ve always enjoyed going to Hilltop Mall as a young child because of the stores they had, food places to eat and even having two movie theaters inside the mall,” Sarkis said. ” What they had back then is not comparable to what they have now.”

Sarkis recalled that the mall used to be a lively place that hosted exciting events, had a large playground and a variety of popular chain stores like Disney and McDonald’s, and two movie theaters.

Over the years, the quality and the number of stores have declined. On a normal Saturday afternoon the mall was empty — except for few customers wandering between the many vacant shops.

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But Piazzola says demand is out there. “The occupancy rate of the mall is around 75 percent…,” he said. “We get calls everyday from people who want to rent a space at Hilltop.”

Based on a Richmond Confidential calculation, about one-third of the mall’s commercial space is empty, not to mention the under-utilized 6,249 spaces of parking lot ( see infographic & maps).

More than a third of people who live in the Hilltop District do not shop at Hilltop Mall, according to a 2014 Hilltop District Homeowners & Stakeholders Association’s annual survey.  The survey shows that about 16 percent of residents do not shop in Richmond at all.

“Sadly we leave our community to shop and dine out,” reads one survey comment. “We would love to spend our money locally, but the options in our area are poor.”

 In terms of people doing business in Hilltop District, about 16 percent of them said they do business inside the mall, and more than a third do business outside of Richmond, according to the survey.

A variety of things have contributed to the decline of Hilltop Mall. Among those are frequent changes of ownership, an issue raised by city Manager Bill Lindsay in an interview with the Contra Costa Times in 2012.

Since the Mall opened in 1976 it has changed ownership five times. It was first owned by Taubman Centers which sold it in 1998 to GM Pension Trust. Six years later, GM Pension Trust sold it to the Mill Corporation. In 2007 it was purchased by Simon Property Group , the largest shopping center owner in the country. The mall has been in receivership with Jones Lang LaSalle since August 2012, and was foreclosed upon in June of 2013. Since, it has been owned by a Trust consisting of the former lenders.

Along with ownership changes, the mall got a reputation for a string of crimes in the late 1990s that may have frightened away customers and businesses.

A former manager for Naturalizer Shoes at Hilltop Mall, who did not want to divulge her name, recalled an incident when a man invaded her shoe stockroom and stole her purse and house keys.

“I fought with him retrieving my belongings from the thief while my costumer called the police,” she said. “Hilltop is notorious for gangs wearing either blue or red.”

Stephanie Roland has lived in Richmond for fifteen years.  She said that she came here a lot when she was a teenager and the mall didn’t have the reputation it has now.

“I’m not sure what went so wrong, but a lack of decent stores is definitely one of them,” she said. “They need stores that really pull the customers in.”

Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin said during last month’s Hilltop Forum that the downfall of the mall is the problem of different urban planning approaches in different times.

“So the kind of mall we have now is not the kind of the urban planning that we will see in the future, ” McLaughlin said. “And when the mall is bought, we will see a different kind of emergence of urban planning with businesses, with service businesses, with all kinds of wonderful things.”

Like McLaughlin, despite the challenges faced, Sarkis is optimistic, too.

“I hope Hilltop mall will go back to the top as how it used to be,” he said.


  1. Tony Suggs on October 21, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Could the Mayor be more specific as to what kind of “wonderful things” she is referring too?

    A big problem that everyone keeps ignoring is, the feeling and in actual practice, Richmond has a reputation for not being business friendly.

    Proposed soda taxes, its own high minimum wage, emphasis on “green” businesses and its very visible shake down of Chevron.

    How many potential businesses would want to invest in Richmond with that kind of political climate?

    Every other surrounding city has a thriving commercial business district. Just look at their leadership and see how they treat businesses.

    • John Reed on October 22, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      So…San Francisco is currently in the process of trying to pass a soda tax, has one of the highest municipal minimum wages in the country, emphasizes green businesses / energy conservation…and they don’t seem to be doing to shabby in terms of their local economy.

      Let’s be real – minimum wage considerations or soda taxes don’t have a thing to do with the decline of Hilltop Mall. Its great that you’ve hit the Chevron talking points by mentioning these items, but none of these bullet points you refer to are what are “scaring” businesses away from Richmond or from Hilltop Mall.

      Richmond is in a tough spot as far as attracting new businesses based on stigma – its a city that is widely perceived as being an unsafe / high crime area. If you look at statistics, Richmond has improved in this area in the time Mayor Gayle has been in office. So while Richmond still has a long way to go, at least its been moving in a positive direction under the RPA.

      • therotintheroot on October 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm

        Thank you for calling out this corporate shill.

        Seattle has a $15/hour minimum wage and is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation, with one of the fastest growing job rates.

  2. Michael Piazzola on October 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    The property went into receivership in August of 2012 and was foreclosed upon in June of 2013, it is therefore not “awaiting foreclosure”, nor is it in receivership. It has been owned since June of ’13 by a Trust consisting of the former lenders. Jones Lang LaSalle believes it is an irreplaceable real estate asset and is optimistic that after a sale the new owner will see the value of a redevelopment consistent with Richmond’s General Plan. I can be reached at 510.669.2100 if any of your readers have questions. Thank you.

    • Robert Rogers on October 22, 2014 at 3:46 pm



      A previous version of the Hilltop Mall story published yesterday incorrectly indicated the Mall is awaiting foreclosure. We wish to correct the record. The property went into receivership in August of 2012 and was foreclosed on in June of 2013. The mall is not awaiting foreclosure, nor is it any longer in receivership.

      Richmond Confidential regrets the error. As always, we welcome comments and corrections from our readers.

      Richmond Confidential

  3. Gabby Talkington on October 22, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Unfortunately when citizens, residents and otherwise, perceive an area to be unsafe, they will simply avoid it. Hilltop has that reputation and probably way to late to shed it.

  4. Matthew Martinez on October 23, 2014 at 12:08 am

    I was born and raised in Montalvin, a unincorporated portion of San Pablo which is located just down the street from Hilltop Mall. Growing up, I can remember being thrilled to go see a new movie playing at either of the two theaters, shopping just across the street at Lucky’s, strolling through the lights and attractions during the holidays, and even a few years back, working in the mall myself. It is sad that Hilltop Mall has grown to have such a negative stigma surrounding it, yes there has been some crime and incidents, but that is true of any place in the world. One thing that is clear, over the last few years Hilltop Mall has grown to try to attract more “youth” shoppers, with trendy hat and shoe stores, more “adult-wear” style clothing stores with less and less business geared towards families. If you create an area that attracts this younger crowd, obviously there will be more noise/horseplay and what not. In addition, when an environment is less welcoming to families it becomes more welcoming to crime perpetrators and a shadier crowd. One of the last times I visited the mall there was a small gathering of young adults around their cars in the parking lot, I happened to look over while passing by and I saw them blatantly waving pistols and other various weapons in the middle of the day. I know as a general rule, growing up in a local neighborhood where crime was once predominant, that as you improve the location you will attract a better class of people which in turn causes those that would commit crimes/etc to look elsewhere, they want to prey on the weak/alone/unsuspecting, not a family group. Yes, there will always be exceptions and many will argue about trying to bring families to a place that is “high crime,” but if the environment changes, the clientele will change as well and soon everything will be on a new course. I, for one, hope to see new family oriented businesses and eateries begin populating the mall and that soon I’ll come by to visit and see it restored to the glory of some of its former years, the ice rink was a great start. I may be an idealist, but I do believe in the general good of people and that if we want to eliminate crime, the best way to do it is by giving people alternatives IE: Jobs, somewhere to go, more communal events and activities, a better sense of belonging.

  5. […] I was browsing through Twitter I came across a link to this article. Growing up in Richmond, I had some fond memories of this mall. Anyone who grew up in the […]

  6. […] Once full of shoppers. Hopes, Hilltop Mall faces an uncertain future A former manager for Naturalizer Shoes at Hilltop Mall, who didn't want to divulge her name, recalled an incident when a man invaded her shoe stockroom and stole her purse and house keys. “I fought with him retrieving my belongings from the thief … Read more on Richmond Confidential […]

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