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Mall seeks improvements, tenants
Friday, November 23, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Liberty Fair Mall’s new owner expects to start making improvements to the indoor shopping center — including more stores — next year.
John Gibson, a managing principal of Hull Storey Gibson Companies LLC, said his firm is “in deep conversations with a number of national retailers.”
The Georgia-based firm, which owns about 20 other malls in the Southeast, bought the 434,000-square-foot mall on Commonwealth Boulevard in May.
Because of continuing negotiations, Gibson declined to identify any stores interested in coming to the mall or say what type of merchandise they sell.
“There is a significant level of interest in Martinsville” among stores, despite the community’s small size and economic factors, he said.
At least a dozen vacant storefronts now exist in the mall.
So far, there has been no serious interest in the space at the mall now occupied by the Sears department store, Gibson said.
The store has been an anchor tenant since Liberty Fair opened in 1989. However, Sears plans to close the store by the year’s end due to a matter pertaining to its lease, a company executive has said.
Gibson indicated his firm is actively trying to recruit a new store to fill the Sears location.
Restaurants may not be among new businesses that Hull Storey Gibson can attract to the mall.
Gibson said it is “very, very, very unusual today” to find a “sit-down” eatery willing to locate in an enclosed shopping center because most — like Chick-fil-A, which is building a stand-alone restaurant on Liberty Street near the mall — prefer to be in their own structures now.
Hull Storey Gibson aims to finish developing a business plan for the mall by March. The plan will specify appearance improvements that will be made and what types of retailers the mall will target, according to Gibson.
The firm still is not generally signing long-term leases with tenants, he said.
While it is not looking to oust any specific retailers now in the mall, Gibson has not ruled out eventually ending relationships with some existing tenants to make room for ones with a potential for higher sales volumes.
Various types of decorative improvements are being considered. Gibson said he cannot say exactly how the mall will be upgraded until the plan is finalized.
Yet changes already are occurring.
Black Friday shoppers may notice that trees growing in mall corridors have been removed. Gibson said an arborist determined the greenery had become overgrown and suggested that it be taken out.
Smaller potted plants are taking the trees’ place.
Hull Storey Gibson prefers for its malls to have “clear lines of sight” letting shoppers “look from one end (of a corridor) to the other” and notice stores and other customers around them more easily, he said.
Those lines of sight let people know they are “not alone in the mall,” Gibson said. Shoppers have told the firm that makes them feel more comfortable, he said, particularly in small-city malls that lack as much “foot traffic” as larger metropolitan malls.
Kiosks now operating in mall corridors may be removed eventually, Gibson said, although he is not yet sure. He noted that Liberty Fair has many more kiosks than other malls that the company owns.
The mall industry typically has found kiosks to be “easy and fast money,” Gibson said, because when somebody wants to rent one, a retail operation can be set up at a kiosk within a few days.
But kiosks tend to drive customers to one side of a corridor or the other, and away from stores on the other side, he said. Also, in some malls, there have been instances of kiosk merchants that “harass” passers-by to try and generate business for themselves, he mentioned.