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Mall could still be an option for Sears, insiders say

Monday, June 3, 2002

smoyers

It's been more than a year since ShopKo closed its store at Westfield Shoppingtown West Park, which everyone outside of PR circles still just calls "the mall."

And, as it does every time there's an opening at the mall, the same name continues to pop up as a replacement -- Sears.

Here's a little background: As most of you will remember, ShopKo, a Fortune 500 company, came into Cape Girardeau like gangbusters. ShopKo billboards went up all over town. Inserts were in every weekend's newspaper.

But ShopKo didn't make money back as quickly as it would have liked. Two years after it opened, it was gone.

Same old story. They wanted a quick turnaround, and when they didn't get it, they left us high and dry, leaving 78 people out of work. (Albertsons pulled a similar move earlier this year.) That also left Kimco Realty, which brought 23 of the Venture stores when they closed, including ours, with a big, empty store.

But Sears remains an option that some feel just may work at the mall.

Sears manager Paul Hawkins said Sears had considered moving to the mall as early as 1989. "So I'm sure that it's an option," Hawkins said. "It seems like it's always been an option."

The mall would have its advantages, he admits.

"I'm sure the mall would have more foot traffic than where we are right now," Hawkins said. "And we certainly could use more space. We need to double the size of our store, whether it's here where we are or anywhere else."

Hawkins, who said he didn't know how likely a move to the mall is, said there's no room at their current location to get some much-needed lines in the store, such as fine jewelry and petites.

"We really need something twice as big," Hawkins said.

We know mall manager Jim Govro would like to see Sears move from the Town Plaza and into the mall. Sears has a lot of things that ShopKo didn't have, name recognition being the most important.

"People were coming in my office six months after they opened, saying 'What's a ShopKo?'" Govro said.

Govro said he's heard for some time that Sears was looking to buy the ShopKo property from Kimco Realty -- which owns and operates 273 shopping centers, two regional malls, 62 retail store leases and one distribution center in the United States.

"That's what I'm hearing, though I can't confirm it," Govro said.

Kimco Realty representatives declined comment.

Govro said that Sears would also fill a void at the mall.

"There's no real place for guys at the mall," Govro said. "You can't go and look at a lawnmower or tools. And this is the Midwest, where so much of the area is agriculture. People around here work for a living. You can't even buy a socket wrench out here."

Govro also thinks Sears could be successful there, possibly even doubling their sales.

"Paul does a heck of a job right now and he's got a great team," Govro said. "And I know he's got a great store. We'd love to have them here. I'd take them in a heartbeat."

Tangled Web

More mall business. Westfield Shoppingtown West Park is about to be the home of Semo.net, a Poplar Bluff-based Internet business that will start operations at a mall kiosk in the middle of June.

Tim Hicks, Semo.net's director of marketing, said the business is an Internet provider service, that also offers Web design, hosting and eventually high-speed broadband Internet access.

They also offer filtering for spam (junk e-mail) and family-safe Internet, a product that will keep inappropriate material away from your kids.

The company already has 15,000 customers in Southeast Missouri, but Hicks said the company realized it needs a presence in Cape Girardeau.

"We knew the Cape market has a lot of potential there," Hicks said. "We needed a remote office so we could have another opportunity to meet customers face to face."

Some neat features are coming, Hicks said. They are going to offer laptop rentals so people can surf the Net at the mall. That'd be good for people like me, whose wife often drags him shopping at the mall.

"We think it will be neat," he said. "We're looking forward to being in Cape."

In one more small bit of mall business, mall manager Jim Govro said that Aeropostale, the new trendy youth clothing store, is almost 80 percent done and will likely open by the middle of June, two weeks earlier than originally announced.

Timber!

Timber Creek Homes has opened at 3317 State Highway 74, right off the Dutchtown exit.

The manufactured home dealership is owned by Gary Coleman and Tom Slinkard and offers land and home package deals. That means they can not only sell you a mobile home, they can sell you the land that it is placed on, Coleman said.

They can construct a basement or garage for these homes, he said. They currently own land west of Gordonville, featuring three- and five-acre tracts. They also have plans for subdivisions in Scott City, Mo., and Jackson, Mo.

Severance pay

The amount of severance pay doled out to corporate managers and executives is falling, a trend that could make the consumer-driven economic recovery a bit slower.

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found that severance for laid-off managers and executives amounted to eight weeks of salary during the first quarter of 2002. That's down a third from the same time a year ago, and down two-thirds from the first quarter of 1999.

That means the financial cushion for the average job-seeking manager or executive will run out about six weeks before a new job is found.

Travel plans

American tourism is expected to surge this summer, due in part to a reluctance to travel overseas because of terrorism fears.

But to what degree will travelers turn to the Internet vs. offline sources to make their travel plans? Four in 10 will go online, a survey conducted by Harris Interactive found. Yet three out of four Internet users think it's important to have access to live travel professionals when planning and purchasing travel.

The poll, commissioned by Trip.com, found that 67 percent of Americans are planning a summer vacation this year and will spend an average of nearly $1,200 in doing so. Those staying with friends and family will spend the least, $795.

Twenty-four percent of travelers said they'll visit loved ones, while 70 percent plan simply to relax.

Scott Moyers is the business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Send your comments, business news, information or questions to Biz Buzz, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699, e-mail to smoyers@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 137.


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