The huge sign towers over the trees along Interstate 81 just south of the intersection with I-77 near Fort Chiswell, claiming a factory outlet mall with 36 stores.
But the sign is a lie. Fort Chiswell Outlets is a dying mall of just 10 stores and some of the few surviving merchants admit business is so bad they expect the place to close in the near future.
Grass grows through cracks in the asphalt in the parking lots where empty stores showcase only dust and vacant space. I browsed a bookstore for 30 minutes before buying a Robert B. Parker hardback Spenser mystery for $7. The girl behind the counter said I was their only customer that morning. Amy checked out the remaining nine stories, including a kitchen place, a shoe store and some clothing outlets.
I sat on a bench along a stretch of vacant stores and read the book while waiting for my wife to finish browsing. A couple in a silver BMW with Delaware plates pulled up.
“Excuse me,” the driver asked. “Where can I find this factory outlet mall?”
“You’re in it,” I replied.
“You’re kididng,” he said as he and his wife gazed at the empty storefronts. “This is it?”
“Well that’s a crock,” he said. They drove off.”
Call it a crock, a con-job or a lie. The sign that towers over I-81 is, at the very least, false advertising.