Hit by closures, West Acres reveals several potential new stores

FARGO-West Acres Shopping Center is losing several of its tenants, but mall officials are already talking to other chains that could take their place in the coming months.
Brad Schlossman, CEO of West Acres Shopping Center, stands Monday, March 6, 2017, in front of Sears in the Fargo Mall. The mall is in talks with several retail outlets to fill recent vacancies such as the impending closure of Sears. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO-West Acres Shopping Center is losing several of its tenants, but mall officials are already talking to other chains that could take their place in the coming months.

A recent West Acres blog post said the mall at 3902 13th Ave. S. is in talks with nine stores: including fashion retailer H&M, women's clothing store Torrid, stuffed animal outfit Build-A-Bear, athletic apparel retailer lululemon, women's clothing store Dry Goods, specialty clothing retailer Zumiez, lingerie store Aerie, natural and organic grocery store Fresh Thyme Farmers Market and restaurant Chick-fil-A.

The post also explained why the leasing process to open a new store "is definitely a marathon, not a sprint."

Mall leaders wanted to describe in its post why it's important to be patient as the mall that's been open since 1972 keeps up with an "accelerating" pace of retail change, CEO Brad Schlossman said.

"We see the near future in an optimistic light," he said. "Because we have demand for space from very strong stores, we're very confident in the future."

"We aren't going to have room for everybody on that list, and not everybody on that list will eventually say that they're going to come to Fargo," Schlossman said. "But we think a very representative sample of that list is going to be here within the next 18 months."

A spokesman for H&M, one of the nine stores listed in West Acre's blog post, emailed The Forum on Monday, March 6, to offer an exclusive announcement about the chain's forthcoming location in Fargo, but he didn't respond to an email reply seeking more details.

The blog was posted to West Acres' Facebook page Friday afternoon, March 3, and has since garnered hundreds of comments as locals expressed excitement for businesses on the list or offered their own ideas for new stores, including Banana Republic, Anthropologie, J.Crew, Lush cosmetics, Dave & Buster's restaurant and dozens more.

An opportunity

West Acres has lost several stores in recent months, especially its stores operated by national chains that have filed for bankruptcy and decided to shutter all of their locations. Many national retail stores have been struggling as online shopping continues to grow quickly.

Since December, the mall has lost or has heard of upcoming closures by national chains Aeropostale, The Limited, New York & Co., Wet Seal, Simply Mac and Family Christian.

Fargo-based Vanity announced last week it will close its remaining 140 or so stores across the country, including a storefront in West Acres, and a Sears anchor store will close this spring after West Acres decided to part ways with its longtime tenant.

While Schlossman said much of the external focus is on the growing number of empty spaces, West Acres officials are already working to get those spots filled.

"The mall can't get better unless we replace the poorer performing stores with higher performing stores, and so we're in that stage now," he said. "If you look at the list of stores that we're talking to, they would end up being in that higher performing store description."

It's a drastic change from a few years ago, he said, when the mall had almost no vacancies and it was difficult to bring in new retailers. Now, there's opportunity for change, he said.

Change is the norm for shopping malls, Schlossman said, and about a third of West Acres' stores close and another third change over the course of an average 10-year period.

Rapid changes

The most recent turnover means existing stores will be able to move around, relocating to a larger or smaller storefront if needed. But with an accelerating pace of change affecting malls and the retail industry overall, Schlossman said it's also important to replace closed stores with competitive brands that can keep up with the evolution of shopping.

"I do expect customer preferences to change faster, and the stores that will succeed are the ones that will understand the nature of those preferences coming from the customers," he said.

It's not a quick process to reach out to new businesses, get both sides on board and get a lease signed, but Schlossman said West Acres will have new stores to announce as it fills in its current vacancies.

That includes the long-empty TGI Friday's restaurant space in the parking lot. The restaurant closed in December 2015, and he said there was no action on it last year because mall officials had already started talking with a possible new tenant for the space that was interested in opening in 2017.

There's no signed lease or official announcement yet, but Schlossman said that restaurant hopes to open late in the year after putting up a new building on the former TGI Friday's site.

He said the mall wants to add two or three new stores to replace Sears, which will close March 26. West Acres' lease with Sears ends April 30.

JC Penney officials have announced plans to close as many as 140 stores this year, but Schlossman said he's confident the retailer will remain open at the mall.

"We have close to zero concern that they would ever be on a closing list," he said.