The list of retailers leaving Grand Forks seems to grow daily, but the organization that owns the Grand Cities Mall wants to flip that narrative in its area of the city.
Land of Hope LLC has hired California-based Plainjoe Studios to create a master plan for the part of town board member Paul Knight hopes will become known as the "Midtown District."
Knight, also lead pastor at Hope Church in the Grand Cities Mall, said shoppers today are driven by experiences and not just wanting to pick up a product. Knight likens the change in the retail market to the invention of the car.
When Henry Ford invented a car almost anyone could afford, it put people selling horses out of business, Knight said.
He sees the same thing happening with the emergence of online shopping and the dominance of companies like Amazon.
"This is one of those big, iconic changes for our nation," Knight said. "We're redoing how we do business. Stores that offer good service, a human touch, those are going to be the kinds of places you go to."
This is one of the reasons Land of Hope LLC has hired an outside consultant to help restructure the mall and surrounding area, he said.
Plainjoe Studios recently visited Grand Forks to meet with Land of Hope and city and business leaders to talk and "dream" about a plan for the area.
"It's stunning what could happen on this property," Knight said. "Some iconic-type buildings and dreams that would make this a place people in town want to come hang out in."
Although the plan is still in the early stages, Knight said the two groups discussed a green space on the property, including trees and a pond.
They also discussed adding a coffee shop and restaurant. Grand Cities Mall would remain a mall but would have different kinds of businesses inside, a mix of retail and other shops.
A reproduction of an old prairie church would be the centerpiece of the new space, Knight said.
"You could grab a coffee and sit out in the park, your kids could play on the park area," Knight said of the new design. "It wouldn't be driven by just retail, it would be driven by experiences."
Knight said the group will meet with Plainjoe Studios in a couple of months to discuss the plan further and look at the interior of the mall.
Members of the Grand Forks community probably won't notice much of a change anytime soon, Knight said, but the project would make significant progress in the next 10 years.
"My hope is this will affect the whole South Washington corridor," Knight said.
The South Washington corridor is the No. 1 district of small businesses in the city, Knight said.
"You see small mom and pop stores that offer great service. I see those as the ones that are going to survive and come back stronger," Knight said.
Big box stores dependent on large numbers of people coming in will be the kind of stores totally replaced by online shopping, Knight said.
"You've got Ace hardware here. They know their business, the guy calls you by name and brings you everything you need," Knight said. "That is the kind of thing I think we'll see in the future, specialized stores that offer great service."