With new business focusing more toward Highway 371, the East Brainerd Mall has come to a crossroads in its existence.
No longer the focus of shopping in Brainerd/Baxter, the mall might be forced to find a way to reinvent itself. Things may already be headed in that direction.
Paul Bloom, director of community education for the Brainerd Public Schools said the Early Childhood Family Education center, which has been located in the East Brainerd Mall since 1991, received a memo from the mall's property manager saying that the mall's owners had entered into a purchase agreement with a possible buyer.
Bloom said the memo, addressed to all mall tenants, didn't say who the new owner might be or whether or not a deal had been approved, but it did state that the possible sale of the mall is in process.
The company that entered into the purchase agreement to buy the mall has 120 days from January 11 to make its decision.
"Nothing is for sure about the sale yet," East Brainerd Mall co-owner Joni Alvarez said. "Everything is still under negotiation."
Where this would leave the Early Childhood Family Education center, a unique participant in the mall since it's a non-retail store, Bloom didn't know, but he said to date the mall has been an ideal location for the center.
"We have been happy there. It's a nice community spot, a safe place to come with a good, well-lit parking lot for Early Childhood Family Education programs that take place in the evening," Bloom said. "We have a lot invested in that, and we certainly are going to be disappointed if we have to move."
If the mall is to have a new owner, some merchants hope they bring in retailers to reinvigorate business, and fill the void for some departed tenants.
Birgit Voeller, owner of Birgit's Jewelry in the East Brainerd Mall, has enjoyed success at her location, but she realizes the mall needs the big-name stores, something it lost when Montgomery Ward closed.
"We need to have the anchor stores (like Montgomery Ward)," she said. "I would like to see that space being filled."
Montgomery Ward had been in the mall from 1967 until it closed Jan. 15. 1999.
The growth along Highway 371 and the effect it could have on the East Brainerd Mall doesn't concern Kathy Porwall, promotion coordinator for the East Brainerd Mall. She said the growth of the area will be a benefit for everyone.
"I think as our retail grows we draw more retail into town," she said, adding that competition with the west side of the community isn't an issue between businesses. "Our stores are different than the ones at Westgate mall, but the growth (of the area) has been good for everyone."
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