A long-time tenant at Columbia Mall in Grand Forks has been evicted from the premises, and the store now sits nearly empty, as employees finish removing merchandise.
Clothing retailer Eddie Bauer, a decades-long tenant at the mall, was served an eviction notice on Monday, June 15. The notice came when the shop was preparing to reopen the following day. Eddie Bauer has been closed since mid-March over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The loss of the retailer comes at a time when other stores in the mall, owned by Chicago-based GK Development, have recently closed their doors, or are preparing to do just that.
“I just know what my company has said I'm allowed to say for legal (reasons),” said Kelly Fontaine, the manager of Eddie Bauer. “Just that the mall has evicted us, and they gave us four days to get out.”
Fontaine went on to say her company was able to get the deadline to vacate extended, in order to uninstall the company’s computers and cameras. The business employed about 14 people at its mall location.
Justin Valinski, the general manager for Columbia Mall, did not provide a comment when reached by phone, and a subsequent email went unreturned.
Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Chamber of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks, stated in a message to the Herald that some property owners and management groups are willing to work with retail tenants, rather than evict them. Others, he said, have payments to make and have much less room to be flexible.
Incoming Mayor Brandon Bochenski, in a Monday afternoon phone call, said the situation at the mall “is sad to see.” Bochenski noted there aren’t many tenants left at the shopping center, something he attributed to GK Development.
“There's been a real unwillingness, it seems, for that management group to work with their tenants, from the outside looking in,” Bochenski said.
Bochenski said he hoped, at some point, ownership of the mall would change hands, and that new ownership would be able to put together incentives to redevelop the land.
“That's ideal, to have some sort of local ownership going, someone that cares about the community,” Bochenski said. “Any new ownership would be good, but local would be much better."
Eddie Bauer isn’t alone when it comes to businesses leaving their locations at the mall, though the reasons for doing so are different. A May 20 report in USA Today noted L Brands, the parent company for Victoria’s Secret, would be closing 250 locations in the United States and Canada. On Monday at Columbia Mall that business and its neighboring store, Pink, were closed; the plastic see-through shutters, drawn. Staff inside the store declined to speak to the Herald through the shutter, saying they were not allowed to do so. The staff members appeared to be boxing up merchandise.
In the food court, the home-style restaurant What's Cooking? has closed, and all of the equipment has been removed. A social media post for the restaurant stated it closed in early May, after opening in March. Crookston-based Mexican restaurant El Gordito is now the mall’s sole dining establishment.
Representatives from GK Development last visited Grand Forks in June 2019, where they visited the Chamber, met with city government officials and the Herald. At that time representatives said Columbia Mall was a “top priority” for their company, but declined to state specific plans for revitalizing the mall.