2012-01-06 / Front Page

Hello, Trader Joe?

Larson, Shattuck both say it ain’t so
BY DARCIE MOORE, Times Record Staff

TOPSHAM — Despite a rumor that a Trader Joe’s store is coming to the Topsham Fair Mall, it would be news to one of the mall owners, as well as the town’s economic and community development director.

With brothers Kevin and Paul Kelly, John Larson owns the former Village Candle building where Renys is located on Topsham Fair Mall Road.

With his wife, June, Larson also own the smaller mall stores between that building and the Hannaford supermarket at Topsham Fair Mall.

On Wednesday, Larson said no one representing Trader Joe’s — either from the retail food chain or a broker working on its behalf — has contacted the mall owners, nor is he aware of any effort on the part of Trader Joe’s to locate in Topsham.

“I’d be utterly ecstatic if it were true,” Larson said. “If they’re doing anything, they’re being awfully quiet about it.”

Trader Joe’s opened its first and only Maine store in Portland at the end of October 2010.

Larson said a rumor that Trader Joe’s is coming to town started about three months ago. He’s been asked by strangers, his tenants and others.

This isn’t the first time Larson has fielded recurrent rumors about a popular chain store coming to the mall. Five years ago, similar rumors circulated about an Olive Garden restaurant taking root at Topsham Fair Mall.

Plans for a branch of the Italian restaurant reached the Topsham Planning Board in 2007 but never proceeded to the site plan phase.

John Shattuck, Topsham’s economic and community development director, said Wednesday he’s also heard the rumor about Trader Joe’s coming to town. Shattuck said he’s not aware of any such plans.

Topsham economic development advocates approached Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods about locating in town, but executives of both chains have indicated “zero interest in the foreseeable future,” in establishing second stores in Maine, according to Shattuck. However, Topsham officials have fielded inquiries from retailers of significant size and importance looking at the mall, Shattuck said.

A departure

One change at the mall in the new year is the departure of a Payless Shoe outlet.

Payless ShoeSource’s parent company, Collective Brands, Inc., said in a written statement that the store in the Topsham Fair Mall closed Jan. 1.

“The Payless store closing in Topsham” results from the firm’s decision, announced Aug. 24, to “close 475 Payless and Stride Rite stores over the next three years,” a Collective Brands release states.

According to the Aug. 24 release announcing the closures, 350 stores are due to close by the end of January 2012, including 300 Payless stores across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico; and 50 Stride Rite stores located in the U.S.

“These affected stores are underperforming and low volume stores,” the release states. “A comprehensive analysis was conducted to determine which stores to close with a goal to optimize the profitability of markets by removing many low sales volume stores, as well as those that cannot support the assortments and staffing that the company believes its stores should offer.”

A company representative said Thursday, “We are conducting a targeted direct mail campaign to redirect shoppers to other nearby stores in the area. Closing stores will provide coupons to customers with a map to a nearby store.”

The nearest operating store is in the Auburn Mall, located at 550 Center St., Auburn.

The Renys effect

In another recent hit to Topsham’s retail center, Village Candle in April 2011 left the 72,000- square- foot space it leased at the Topsham Fair Mall. But in August, the Maine family-owned Renys opened its 16th store in a portion of the former candle manufacturing and retail space.

While Renys fills some of the void left by Village Candle, Larson and the Kelly brothers continue to seek tenants for 40,000 square feet that Renys does not use, as well as 9,000 square feet of office space constructed in a mezzanine area when a Bradlees department store occupied the site.

Larson said Wednesday that a number of potential tenants have scoped out the former retail space and office space.

“I think we’re very fortunate that in this economy, we have a fairly substantial amount of vacant space remaining in the former Village Candle building next to Renys, and I think, very fortunate that several people are looking at that,” Larson said.

“We are so appreciative of Renys for a number of reasons,” Larson said. “One is because they are extremely good neighbors,” who before the holidays invited and encouraged the other tenants to be part of the store’s Early Bird sale.

“I think they have the attitude that if they’re successful, they want other people to be successful, (which) feeds on itself,” Larson said. “It’s remarkable to be dealing with a store that has that attitude today.”

Additionally, he said, Renys is drawing in new customers to the mall, specifically from the Lewiston area.

“Our tenants have noticed almost uniformly an increase in sales and customer counts, where people are wandering in with a Renys bag,” he said.

Larson also touted the success of Jo-Ann Fabric, adding that “we are talking (to that store) about expanding.” Those details have not been finalized, but Larson said he thinks it is likely an expansion will happen.

“It’s been a ‘droughty’ three years here, but I think as things start to warm up a little bit, some of the real distinct advantages we have right here are starting to emerge as people are starting to stretch out, spend a little and are looking to be the first in this kind of location,” Shattuck said of Topsham’s prospects to bring businesses to town.

dmoore@timesrecord.com

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