PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Aroostook Centre Mall Manager Bruce Brigman’s desk is an amalgam of papers, keys and sticky notes containing a variety of reminders and phone numbers.
Brigman, a County native, has been the manager of Aroostook Centre Mall since late June. He initially worked as a security consultant, before being tapped to manage the entire operation by the Kohan Retail Investment Group, which bought the mall in March.
Brigman had come on to the scene with big dreams: to drive foot traffic to the mall by adding successful and unique local businesses. With new customers to showcase, he could attract interest from nationwide chains with no representation in The County.
Brigman says he has accomplished much of the first part of the plan: he has seen a noticeable rise in traffic across the mall since the beginning of his tenure.
“The numbers I see from the sales reports have gone up,” Brigman said.
Brigman has received several offers from all around The County to lease space in the mall for use by the local community, including for pageants, haunted houses, craft fairs and theater rehearsals. He believes this has also driven traffic, as those introduced to the mall come back for more.
This rise has encouraged him to continue to reach out to major national brands that don’t have spots in The County, including Michael’s and Hobby Lobby.
Brigman says he had been encouraged by the successful opening of two new businesses within the mall, Momma Bears Bake Shop and Cosmic.
Allison Page and Sarah Grindle own the Momma Bears Bake Shop, which sells a variety of freshly made baked goods.
Grindle says that she is often taking note of what her customers want to see as they evolve.
This feedback has driven them toward new frontiers, especially new diet trends. Already offering gluten-free items on special days of the week, the owners said they planned on expanding their vegan and vegetarian options because of consumer demand.
“We try to keep our prices low. It’s a family business, so we don’t have to ask if this is okay, and that is okay,” Grindle said. “We try to cater to people’s needs.”
Page said that business had generally been good, although it had slowed down a little recently, which she attributed to recent weather conditions.
Matthew Nadeau of Fort Fairfield is the owner of the mall’s other new business, Cosmic, primarily a women’s clothing store also featuring a number of novelty T-shirts — many designed by Nadeau himself — and other trinkets.
“My idea was to kind of mash-up a handful of my favorite stores into one,” Nadeau said. “Maurices, Hot Topic, Spencer’s. A little touch of Claire’s.”
This is not Nadeau’s first business in Presque Isle; he has owned Bella Vita on Main Street for about three years.
Nadeau said business had been good so far, and that he was looking forward to the store’s sales on Black Friday, during which several items will have discounts.
Brigman made it clear that while he wanted to drive people to the mall, there were some boundaries he was not willing to cross, even if they could prove successful. He said he had refused an offer to establish a marijuana “growhouse.”
“I just didn’t think it was appropriate for the mall,” Brigman said. “I want this mall to be a place where parents can drive up, drop their teenage kids off, and feel this can be a safe and comfortable place for them.”
He recognizes that malls of today have fierce competition from online retailers like Amazon and eBay. He said malls like his could stay relevant by offering a unique experience with diverse spaces.
“There is always going to be a need for brick-and-mortar stores,” Brigman said. “People want to see. People want to shop as an event, not just sit in their pajamas all the time.”