Community reacts to sale of mall, hopes owner pumps ‘new life’ into space
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Just days after the New York-based Kohan Retail Investment Group confirmed buying the Aroostook Centre Mall in Presque Isle, area residents expressed a desire to see new stores and maybe even nontraditional tenants re-energize the space.
On Tuesday, Mike Kohan, president of Kohan Retail, which is based in Great Neck, Long Island in New York, said his company bought the mall for $4.65 million and has “many ideas on the table” about how to increase the number of tenants.
That is good news for the mall and for the business world in the Presque Isle region, according to LaNiece Sirois, executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce. Sirois said Friday that she and chamber members have high hopes for the mall’s new chapter, as Kohan’s mission is to help malls across the nation reinvent themselves in the age of online shopping.
Part of that reinvention for the Aroostook Centre Mall, she noted, might include looking at how to merge digital trends with the experience of shopping at retail stores.
“Shoppers tend to research stores online first, then go to the store to pick up the product they decided upon. While they are there, they may purchase more than what they originally came in for,” Sirois said. “So having an up-to-date online presence allows the customer to research your shop in three clicks or less and improves sales.”
The Aroostook Centre Mall has seen a decrease in retail store tenants for the past several years, as shopping trends have shifted more and more toward online shopping. JC Penney remains the only anchor store and recently renewed its lease for multiple years. But there have been no tenants filling the former Sears and Kmart stores that closed in January 2015 and summer 2016, respectively.
The former Sears location remains empty except for the areas that house Harbor Freight Tools and VIP Tires & Service.
As of Friday, mall manager Patti Crooks was unavailable for comment. But many people who were out shopping in the mall that afternoon said they thought the sale to Kohan was a positive step forward.
Chris Lenox of Limestone noted that he likes the idea of more local businesses in the mall, as that is one avenue that Kohan expressed interest in exploring.
“I’m a big supporter of small businesses. Right now we have to go to Bangor if we want to do any store shopping and that’s far for a lot of people,” Lenox said. “I don’t come here very often, but I’d like to see some new life come into this mall.”
Debbie Day of Presque Isle said she, too, does not shop in the mall often but comes everyday to go walking.
“It’s sad to see all these stores in the mall leave. I’m an old-fashioned shopper. I prefer to see what I’m buying instead of shopping online,” Day said. “I’d like to see another clothing store or shoe store come into the mall. Maybe a children’s clothing store, too.”
Though malls have traditionally served as spaces for retail stores, the Aroostook Centre Mall has attempted to increase the number of tenants by renting out former stores as office space for agencies, such as Aroostook Elder Law and United Way of Aroostook, and for non-retail groups such as LeBlanc’s School of Martial Arts, All-Star Gymnastics and the Freedom Church. The remaining eateries in the food court are Chopsticks and Ruby Tuesday.
The mall’s current occupancy rate is 55 percent, though it remains one of Presque Isle’s largest taxpayers. Presque Isle City Assessor Lewis Cousins recently said that the city will reassess the mall’s valuation based on the occupancy at the time and following discussions with Kohan officials.
Last year, the city assessed the mall at $8.6 million, a reduction of almost half the 2017 amount of $15 million, which brought in $233,330 in taxes. Presque Isle’s taxes run on a calendar year.
Similar trends have plagued the Bangor Mall. An auction on that mall in February closed with a high bid of $14.95 million, but its future remains unknown because the reserve price wasn’t met. Bangor’s appraisal of the mall dropped from $60.9 million in 2017 to $47.3 as of April 1, 2018. Mall officials are still appealing the 2017 assessment and are in support of a lower value that would result in a property tax refund.
While JC Penney and Hannaford remain two of the Bangor Mall’s largest tenants and have renewed their leases for this year, there also has been an increase in locally owned businesses taking up space in former stores, including a theater group, a church and a bridal shop. Furniture Mattress and More is currently leasing the space where Macy’s was formerly located while the former Sears location remains empty.
Sirois said that she wouldn’t be surprised if the trend toward nontraditional mall tenants continued to impact the Aroostook Centre Mall in future years. For now, she hopes that conversations between the new owners, mall management and business owners will continue to result in new, innovative ways of engaging local consumers.
“Malls are being reinvented as destinations for weekend outings, community involvement and entertainment as well as family experiences and social interactions,” Sirois said. “The mall doesn’t have to be all about retail. It’s a think-outside-the-box day and age.”
Writer Lori Valigra of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.