Four mall stores close in last 10 days

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Some might see the closing of four stores at Westfield Shoppingtown West Park in a 10-day span as an ominous sign. The mall's manager, Jim Govro, sees it as a golden opportunity.

"Everybody thinks that the mall's doing horrible because we have vacancies," said Govro. "It's a living and breathing entity that is always changing. We really see it as an opportunity, a chance to redefine ourselves."

Four stores -- Cookie Corner, A&W Hot Dogs and More, Camelot Music and Friedman's Jewelers -- have all closed since Jan. 4. Of the 90 mall stores, only seven are empty, Govro said.

"We're really doing fine," he said.

Govro said the mall is visited by more than 5 million people a year, and he expects to see a 5 percent increase in sales this year despite the recession. He predicted the mall will end up with about $100 million of the $1 billion in total sales in Cape Girardeau County this year.

"We did that without a major department store" last year, Govro said. "If we get one of those, we'll really be on fire."

The mall has been trying to get a major department store since Shopko closed in February. Overtures have been made to Sears in the past, but Govro wouldn't confirm any possible new developments with the company.

Govro said the stores that recently closed had performed below expectations of the mall and their owners.

All of the stores closed about the same time because the mall issues leases for Feb. 1 through Jan. 31, even though they may be for multiple years.

"At this time of year, we always lose a couple," Govro said.

Westfield has been looking for replacements for the stores for some time, Govro said. He said he couldn't talk about which new stores they are talking with because no leases have been signed.

New stores interested

"But rest assured, for every space that has gone down there are new tenants interested," he said. "If not one, then two."

He expects to have deals for two or more of the stores within the next 45 days.

Customers shopping Monday had various opinions of the mall.

"It stinks how they change around so much," said Mary Dorlac of Cape Girardeau. "I was just in St. Louis and they have so much at their mall. It's usually disappointing to come out here and see they don't have anything."

Caroline Ruch of Jackson, Mo., was more sympathetic.

"The whole economy is bad, period," she said. "I think anyone can understand why a store is closing. They can't make it. I'm surprised more stores haven't closed everywhere. I suspect we'll be seeing more closed."

The circumstances around each store's closing is different. Camelot Music merged with another mall store, Disc Jockey, after both stores were bought by Trans World Entertainment. The new store is where Disc Jockey used to be and is called FYE, for For Your Entertainment.

Cookie Corner, operated by Drury Land Development, couldn't come to an agreement with Westfield. Drury president Tim Drury said he was interested in negotiating a lease, but the mall wasn't. The cookie store had been at the mall since it opened.

Govro said he deals in operations, not negotiations, but his understanding is that Westfield negotiators in St. Louis initially were ignored by the Drurys and were then contacted at "the 11th hour" when the mall felt it was too late. They also couldn't come to terms over reinvesting in the store, Govro said.

Friedman's Jewelers and A&W apparently weren't doing the needed business, and both opted out of their contracts.

"We decided not to renew the lease," said A&W company president Kevin Bazner. "We make these decisions every day. These hot-dog stores are not a core business for us as we go forward. We only have a handful of those left, and we're phasing them out. It's the normal course of business."

A&W threw its net deeper into the fast-food sea by buying the 1,247-unit Long John Silver's chain in 1999.

Govro said store changes at the mall aren't necessarily a bad thing.

"Face it: In this business, change creates excitement and excitement creates sales and sales create revenue," he said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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