Mall retail options dwindle

Mendhenhall Mall's Cheap Cholly's closes its doors

Posted: Sunday, May 02, 2010

Cheap Cholly's, one of a handful of retail options remaining at the Mendenhall Mall, closed last month.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Mall manager Larry Bauer said he doesn't yet have a replacement tenant for the large space located in the center of the enclosed mall.

Cheap Cholly's owner could not be reached for comment. Nearby tenants reported reduced store hours before the closure but said they didn't know why the store closed.

The closure means only four retail stores remain inside the mall, which has increasingly become what Bauer describes as "community-oriented" as he filled vacancies.

Occupancy is between 80 and 90 percent but the mixture of tenants is somewhat eclectic. Three storefronts are occupied by military recruiting offices, a large section is taken up by a branch of the public library, and other spaces are filled with mom-and-pop restaurants and service-oriented businesses such as a nail salon and tanning salon.

Bri Webber, an employee at skateboard shop Sequence, said the mall felt "deader than ever" to her after working there for two years. The closure of Gottschalks last year, the mall's department store anchor, created a noted change in activity.

"There's just not that many people here," she said.

Malls are in decline all over the country but national retailers pulled back extensively - and several went bankrupt - during the recession, making it difficult to fill mall space with what shoppers might define as traditional mall stores.

The Nugget Mall has 18 empty stores right now, a high vacancy rate, according to Nugget Alaskan Outfitters Owner Ron Flint, whose family has done business there since the 1970s. He compared mall occupancies with Southeast Alaska's tides.

"I've seen it rise and fall over the years," he said. "It's kinda low now and been that way for awhile."

Flint said the proliferation of big box stores in Juneau has made retail challenging for small business owners. He notices, for example, when Costco receives a shipment of Xtratufs.

Internet shopping and free shipping also has made retail more challenging.

The Nugget Mall has not attracted as many non-retail tenants as the Mendenhall Mall, and its remaining businesses represent more traditional tenants. There are several national retailers interspersed among the shuttered storefronts. Manager Bud Jaeger did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Despite its untraditional mix of tenants, some Mendenhall Mall tenants said business is good.

Pat Pennoyer credited management with working to help his business, Gifts & Graphics, succeed as he opened last year from a home office. He was able to negotiate a reasonable lease and was lent racks for free, he said.

"They help you ease into profitability, they know the challenges we face," he said.

Sun Kissed, a tanning salon, would be 20 percent busier with a new anchor but business is steady even without it, owner Laura Lundborg said.

She purchased the business in February but based her projection on the business' books, which she said she studied carefully before buying.

"Business is steady and I was happy with what I knew it was going to be," she said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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