NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Businesses and non-profit organizations located inside Military Circle Mall have less than two months to pack up and find a new place to go.
This comes after the city of Norfolk announced the mall would close on January 31.
The Big Free Book Store, Owned by REACH Inc., is one of many stores inside Military Circle Mall looking for a new place to go next month. REACH Non-Profit Directors tell 10 On Your Side that they have a space in mind, but turning the next page is proving to be difficult.
“I always like to say that we’re like the food bank for books,” said REACH Executive Director, Jennifer Goff.
From board books to chapter books, a new adventure is always calling your name inside the Big Free Bookstore.
“We have something for everybody and there really is something for everybody,” said Assistant Director, Leslie Clarridge.
The Big Free Book Store set up shop inside Military Circle Mall thinking they had a place to stay until December of 2023. The move-out date, which is now less than two months away, came a lot earlier than expected.
“We are really excited about the potential, but it does bring forth other financial challenges, moving unexpectedly and there’s increases in those costs that are coming along with moving earlier than expected,” said Goff.
Finding a new place to go in the area that they serve is one of the many challenges the company is facing.
“Finding affordable real estate is critical to our operations and our mission, especially in a 501-C-3 where every dollar needs to be used responsibly,” said Goff.
Goff says many tenants inside the mall are non-profits too, who are all dealing with record inflation and fewer donations to get them through.
“It’s a risk any person in our situation would not want to take on,” said Goff. “Moving right now is not what we would say is the healthiest thing but its the only thing that’s available in this moment.”
Moving out of Military Circle Mall is something they always knew was coming. Goff says they were just hoping to have more time to fundraise to get into their new space.
“With end of year donations being down we are finding ourselves in a time that we are hoping to get through instead of knowing and that’s just not a good place to be when you’re serving as many families as we are with the resources that are desperately needed,” said Goff.
Goff says at least $24,000 worth of books just went out their door today alone and they’re serving more families than ever before! She says moving to a new space is going to force their rent to go up, but they really don’t have a choice with the mall’s closure.
“If we were to triple or quadruple our rent, which is what the market looks like right now, that’s just money that’s not going to our families, its going to real estate and that’s just not as an agency what we feel comfortable doing with donations that come to us,” said Goff.
Goff says they have a nearby space in mind, but some neighbors are still looking.
“We are learning some of our neighbors have found new spaces and we are celebrating together and now we are working together to help make sure our other neighbors still are able to find a new location,” said Goff.
She says even though the new spot will help them write the next chapter in their story, it’s bittersweet to leave Military Circle Mall behind.
“Everybody has a story about Military Circle Mall,” said Goff. “Really the reason why we are in this mall is this is our heart, this is our home. For us this is where we were able to grow significantly during a time when the need was there and it’s going to be bittersweet to say goodbye to our next-door neighbors who look out for us.”
If you’d like to help The Big Free Book Store move into its new space, visit their website.
“If there’s anybody out there, moving companies, who want to help, we’re a small organization and we would love for them to be able to help us if they can,” said Clarridge.
Military Circle Mall is also having a farewell Christmas extravaganza on December 22nd where you can meet Santa and shop in the iconic mall for the last time during the holiday season. For more information on the event, click here.
The mall will be open until January 31st. A spokesperson for the mall says businesses have until February 15th to move out.