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Jewelry store is latest retailer to move out of Paul Bunyan Mall

By Zach Kayser / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Paul Bunyan shoppers looking for an engagement ring will one have one less place to go inside the mall.

Come January, Ken K Thompson Jewelry will become the newest gap that the leasing executives at Lexington Realty International, the mall’s New Jersey-based property management company, will aim to fill.

Kmart left the mall last year, before Lexington Realty became the managers this January. Ten months later, that space has yet to be filled.

Dale Thompson, co-owner of Ken K. Thompson, said Monday the Paul Bunyan Mall location will move across the street to combine with the location he opened a year ago at the intersection of Paul Bunyan Drive and Rigeway Avenue, across from Perkins. The newer location is three times as large as the one in the mall, he said.

"The new location, it’s kind of overshadowed the mall location," he said.

He said the vitality of the mall influenced the company’s decision to leave, but the main reason was practicality.

"Are we pulling out because we don’t like it out there? No, we’re pulling out because it makes business sense," he said. "How’s the vitality of the mall? Well, time will tell. I think once they get the Kmart location filled, that will make a huge difference."

When Lexington took over as property managers, the Paul Bunyan mall was reported to be at 67 percent occupancy. Alan Retkinski, the company’s president, said it had taken the Westgate Mall in Brainerd/Baxter from 65 percent occupancy rate to 95 percent in nine months and Viking Plaza in Alexandria from 65 percent to 100 percent in two years.

That success was a sign of the bright future in store for the Paul Bunyan Mall, he said at the time.

"Let the proof of our past success be an indication," he said at the time. "We see how we can do it at this property as well."

Contacted Monday, Retkinski said there were parties interested in obtaining space at the mall but did not name specific companies.

"Make a note in your calendar to call me back in a month from now," he said. "We’re working on a lot of things, so hopefully a month from now we’ll be able to give you more concrete information."

Susan Goudge, the mall’s manager, declined to give a current occupancy rate, saying it was confidential information. However, Lexington Realty’s website currently lists eight spots in the mall as vacant, for a total of 113,280 square feet of vacant space. The website says Paul Bunyan Mall has 297,803 total leasable square feet of retail space, meaning 62 percent of the building’s total leasable space is occupied, counting Ken K. Thompson.

Retkinski said in January his goal was to make Paul Bunyan more family friendly, with a children’s indoor play area, free WiFi service and comfortable seating.

Paul Bunyan Mall’s Facebook page announced Oct. 21 that Michigan-based Kiddy Zones would be putting in a "Kid Soft Play Park" at Paul Bunyan Mall but did not specify a location within the mall or when the park would open.

Fred Henry co-owns The $ Store on the mall’s west end, near where Kmart used to be. Although he was confident that things would turn around soon, he said the fact his end of the mall was missing an anchor store was not helping the current situation.

"Business at the mall could be better," he said. "Certainly if you don’t have an anchor at this end, and you have that big space open, that’s not good."

Mike Beard manages JC Penny, the north anchor of the mall. He said his store is doing well but he declined to comment on the health of the mall itself on the grounds that he felt more qualified talking about the JC Penny store specifically.

From a national standpoint, retailers may have a better holiday season this year than the last. Last month, the National Retail Federation forecast a 3.9 percent holiday increase in retail sales for 2013, slightly better than last year’s actual 3.5 percent bump.

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