EARLIER: Gap, Waldenbooks leaving Miller Hill Mall
By the end of this month, Miller Hill Mall is poised to lose at least two of its better known tenants: the Gap and Waldenbooks. The Gap plans to close its doors in Duluth on Jan. 27, and Waldenbooks expects its last day of business at Miller Hill...
By the end of this month, Miller Hill Mall is poised to lose at least two of its better known tenants: the Gap and Waldenbooks.
The Gap plans to close its doors in Duluth on Jan. 27, and Waldenbooks expects its last day of business at Miller Hill Mall to be Jan. 24. The loss reflects a trend for malls across the country: closing retailers and increasing vacancy rates.
"It's worrisome to me that so many stores are going away," said Amanda Rutherford, a Lakeside resident shopping at Miller Hill Mall with her family.
In addition to the Gap and Waldenbooks pending departures, Whitehall Co. Jewellers and Mrs. Fields, a cookie chain, recently left the mall.
"If this keeps up, this place is going to be empty," said Alice Liljegren of Duluth, as she enjoyed a snack at Miller Hill Mall.
"It seems like nothing is going in," she said, pointing at an empty slot in the mall covered over with plywood. "Pretty soon the whole mall will look like this."
Cindy Rodenhizer, director of mall marketing, declined comment on tenants' comings and goings.
Miller Hill Mall is not alone in its woes following a disappointing holiday season for many retailers.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that malls and shopping centers in the 76 largest U.S. markets saw their overall vacancy rates rise from 7.8 percent to 8.3 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2008, according to survey data it obtained from Reis Inc., a market-research firm. That's the sharpest fourth-quarter increase since 1999.
The hurt will most likely continue. Many analysts predict the first quarter of this year will bring more store closures.
A Gap spokeswoman in San Francisco said she could not discuss the specifics of the chain's pending departure from Duluth but observed that it is likely the result of a larger restructuring effort announced in 2008. This initiative was expected to result in the closure of 100 of its least profitable stores nationwide and the opening of 115 stores in promising new markets.
After the Miller Hill store closes, the nearest Gap store to Duluth will be located at the Tanger Outlet Center in North Branch, Minn.
Waldenbooks related a story similar to the Gap's.
"This is part of an initiative we announced in March 2007 to right-size the Waldenbooks chain, and that involves closing underperforming stores," said Mary Davis, a spokeswoman for Borders Group, Waldenbooks' parent company, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. "We've been looking at stores on a case-by-case basis."
Following the closure of the Miller Hill Mall store, the closest Waldenbooks to the Twin Ports will be located in Blaine, Minn.
Since March 2007, Borders has closed 97 Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet stores. The company continues to operate 466 stores in the segment.
Kolina Stepanenkova of Saginaw, another Miller Hill mall shopper, said she will miss Waldenbooks, especially.
"It was a smaller store than Barnes & Noble, and it was easy to get around," she said.
Stepanenkova was less concerned about the Gap leaving and noted that recent vacancies in the mall present opportunities to bring in new retailers.
"Things do change," she said. "And that's not always bad."