Mall sees departure of retailers

Centennial manager says national trend is hitting home

The closure of the Ben Franklin store in the Centennial Mall brings the number of vacancies there up to four.

Most of the remaining 26 stores are not retail related, which seems to be the trend in shopping centers, mall Manager Vicky Hall said Monday.

People can still shop at Pay Less Shoe Source, Maurices or Corral West Ranchwear, but more and more malls house service-related businesses as well. In Craig that includes an armed forces recruiting center, Eyecare Specialties and TMH Rehabilitation Services.

Malls across the United States are losing their popularity. A recent study by Price Wasterhouse Coopers estimated that 7 percent of America's 2,800 malls are dead or languishing, and 12 percent more are headed that way. A mall in Boulder, which boasted 150 stores three years ago, has 60 today, according to media reports.

"We're fortunate with even what we currently have," Hall said.

One reason for the decline, she said, is growing attraction of Americans to large, one-stop discount stores, such as Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart.

"It all comes down to the almighty dollar," she said. "People go where they can get things the cheapest or where they think they're the cheapest. They not always are."

The Centennial Mall's short supply of retail stores isn't going to change anytime soon, Hall said.

"The mall will probably be as mixed use as it has been if that's what it takes to fill space," she said.

"We have a mortgage to pay just like everyone else."

Hall makes cold calls to businesses, advertises mall vacancies, lists openings with Realtors and markets the mall's and the town's amenities in order to fill space, which usually isn't too difficult.

One business is already looking into renting the vacant Ben Franklin store, and another is considering taking over the space Stage occupied until April 2001.

Ben Franklin closed March 15 in a foreclosure. The merchandise remains in the store and will be sold to the highest bidder.

Carol Rutherford, owner of Ben Franklin, blames the store's closure on the economy. Ben Franklin had been a staple in Craig for 26 years.

It was located at the intersection of Sixth Street and Yampa Avenue for 25 of those years, having recently moved into space at the Centennial Mall.

Rutherford said the move did not influence the store's closure.

Large retail stores have considered opening a branch in Craig, but the renovations they've asked the mall owners to pay for make it impossible.

"We're not going to buy retailers," Hall said.

According to Hall, studies indicate that it takes a year and a half in a metro area to fill a space the size of the Stage store. The space the store occupied is 15,000 square feet, 15 percent of the total space in the mall.

"It's tough everywhere," she said. "I notice vacancies everywhere I look."

The Centennial Mall was built in 1979 and has been filled to capacity few times since then. One of those times was in 2000.

"Commercial sites were overbuilt in this town for a long time," Hall said. "For a town this size, we're fortunate to have the businesses we do."

Two investors that make up Colorado and SantaFe Real Estate own the mall. They have had offers to sell the facility in the past, but have declined.

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