ELLSWORTH, Maine — The manager at Maine Coast Mall says the recession and tenant mismanagement, not high rent, is the reason the High Street shopping center is half-vacant.
On the heels of last month’s announcement that the mall’s Fashion Bug would close, some current and former mall tenants said Monday that vacancies and low foot traffic were a t least partly because of mall management and “prohibitive” costs of rent at the mall.
While the mall has seen two new tenants in the past year — TJ Maxx replaced Marden’s and Governor’s Restaurant took over the old Friendly’s — seven of 13 mall suites will be vacant when Fashion Bug closes its doors. Some of those suites have been vacant for years.
Carl Siefken, manager of the Maine Coast Mall, was unavailable for comment Monday. On Tuesday, he said the mall’s rents are fair.
Lease negotiations have two sides, he said, and renegotiation is an option if tenants don’t like what they see on the table. The mall renegotiated a lease for one tenant, Maine Coast Cinemas, this year to help the theater take on the analog-to-digital conversion necessary to stay open.
On Monday, the theater’s owners said they were “fairly happy” with the agreement, but said management was part of the reason for the mall’s stagnation. Siefken disagreed.
“If we were outside the norm, we still wouldn’t be getting leads coming in, people saying they’re interested in coming to the mall,” he said. “Our rent is what the market will pay.”
Siefken said large retailers will be important to the mall’s revitalization. Local and Maine-based businesses have struggled at the mall and elsewhere to navigate the economic twists and turns since the housing bubble burst in late 2007, he said.
“Governor’s, TJ Maxx and Hannaford are doing great,” he said. “Every time we put a family-owned business in here, they last about two years and go belly-up. They have kind of a poor record, but we know in any business the first year is the worst.”
The mall’s suites, most of which are under 10,000 square feet, also make renting difficult, Siefken said, because most national stores need more space.
Despite that, the mall is in talks with two national companies about coming to Ellsworth, Siefkin said, though he couldn’t identify those firms because negotiations are ongoing.
“It’s all just business,” he said. “It’s not like we’re out to punish people for being here. We’re trying to attract businesses to the community, to give not only a place to shop, but a place to have a good selection of stores.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.