Store owners at Columbia Mall fear further closures could result in drastic changes

After the recent closure of shops at Columbia Mall, some store managers are concerned bout decreased foot traffic.

After the recent eviction of a Columbia Mall tenant and the closure of others, some store managers there are worried about decreased foot traffic, what it will take to bring it back and what the mall could look like in the future.

Store owners’ and managers’ worries extend to fear, in some cases, of not knowing what will happen to the mall in the future, and consequently, their own businesses. Each darkened shop means less of a draw for walk-by traffic and contributes to a gloomy atmosphere. The shock of the eviction of clothing store Eddie Bauer only added to some managers’ concerns. Still, some owners say they are doing well and intend to stay at their locations for the duration.

“It's frustrating as an owner of a store in the mall,” said Misti Kauffman, owner of Balloons by Misti. “It's very concerning, because we don't know what's happening until it happens. (Eddie Bauer) was here one day getting ready to open, and the next day they're closed and had been evicted, so it's a little scary.”

The clothing retailer was given an eviction notice on June 15 and vacated its location the following week.

Jorie Westley, public relations manager for Eddie Bauer LLC, confirmed the eviction to the Herald in a June 24 email. Westley also stated the store was already on the company’s short-list for closure, though no official date had been set. The store was closed for a period of time during the pandemic and was only recently preparing to open. The last day of operations was on June 17.


When asked if Eddie Bauer had stopped paying rent, or if the shop had reached out to mall management to negotiate a deal – rent reduction or repaying any late rent, should that be the case – Westley responded: “As a privately held company, Eddie Bauer doesn’t comment on details around financials.”

Rent at Columbia Mall varies from shop to shop. Eric Laubach, owner of House of Vacuums, said he got a good deal when he relocated to the mall in November. He told the Herald he pays $1,000 a month, and the first two months were free.

“So far, I’m doing pretty well – keeping afloat,” Laubach said.

On the other hand, food kiosk Pretzelmaker, located at a junction of mall hallways, pays $5,500 a month. That’s up from $4,500 about five years ago, manager Susan Zettler said, and doesn’t include rent on the shop’s storage space.

The eviction of Eddie Bauer only adds to the number of closed shops. Screen printing business The Imaginarium, Regis Salon and restaurant What’s Cooking? have all closed their doors. Staff at Victoria’s Secret were boxing up merchandise on June 22 in preparation to close, and mall General Manager Justin Valinski confirmed in a June 26 email that the closure is permanent.

Grafton-based Luscious Boutique bucked that trend by opening in the mall in late May. A staff member reached by phone said business has been good, but referred the Herald for comment to owner Mary Kippen-Morgan, who was unable to be reached.

Kauffman said she began putting balloons in empty stores to add a little cheer to the mall. Her business doesn’t depend as much on walk-by traffic. Her customers come from around the region for her balloon sculptures, usually for birthdays and other events, which they often order online ahead of time.

“I hated walking to the food court and seeing all the emptiness,” Kauffman said. “It makes me so sad, so I just started putting balloons in there to brighten up the space.”


Kauffman said mall management has no control over whether large retailers, such as Macy’s and Sears, decide to close. Customers’ migration to online sales, which has plagued retailers for years, is behind that trend. The mall may see a shift to smaller, independent businesses, though Kauffman said she worries continued store closures will force a drastic change resulting in something that is no longer a mall, leaving stores like hers out in the cold.

“I am a little fearful that, all of a sudden one day, we're just going to do something else with the mall, and you're getting out,” Kauffman said.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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