Mall enjoying renaissance

FAIRMONT – The mall in Fairmont was the hot place to be for years, particularly in the 1970s and ’80s, for the kids going to movies or hanging out at the arcade, and the adults shopping its many stores for clothing, groceries, shoes and more.

One by one, many of those amenities faded away, until recently, when traffic began to pick up at Five Lakes Centre.

“It’s very exciting, and our new ownership is fantastic,” said Nancy Olson, property manager for Security National Properties, which took over for Dial Properties.

Tim Briley began as manager of JCPenney two and a half years ago, around the same time the mall was transferring owners.

“When I took over, only 50 percent of the mall was filled,” Briley said. “And then things started happening quite quickly. I started in May, and by the end of the year, we were at 70 percent.”

According to Olson, 94 percent of the mall space is now leased. New to the facility is True Value hardware store, Brewkaz Coffee House & Cafe, Shoe Sensation and The China Buffet.

More growth is coming, according to Olson.

“We have a lot of people looking,” she said.

“And not much space left,” added her daughter, Shari Marie Olson, who is marketing director for the mall and owns Shari Marie Photography, which is also new to the mall as of June 2011.

The uptick is a welcome change for Barbara Behrends, owner of Extra Touch boutique. Behrends moved to Fairmont 28 years ago in order to open her store.

“I’ve seen many changes through the years. It’s been very exciting,” she said, regarding the recent growth. “… We had a lot of slow years, but we are climbing back.”

Among the shoppers she sees are new and familiar faces, both of which are a welcome sight.

“I think what’s really exciting is I’m seeing faces I used to see that I hadn’t seen here for a while,” Behrends said.

JCPenney has remained an anchor store from the mall’s inception, but even when the mall wasn’t a popular destination, business remained steady, according to Darla Colby, departments supervisor.

What hurt the department store more than anything was a change in leadership, when CEO Ron Johnson’s strategies to modernize JCPenney flopped. Johnson has since left the company, and Mike Ullmann III is now at the helm.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction again,” Briley said. “… We had a struggling year with our old CEO.”

Going into the holiday season, many of the store owners were optimistic about their fourth quarter sales.

“Our slogan is ‘In it to win it,'” Briley said.

At The Extra Touch, Behrends has already been helping customers shopping for Christmas presents, which has her hopeful that more people are adopting a “shop local” mentality.

The mall officially kicks off its holiday season Nov. 21 with Ladies Night out. Three hundred tickets are available for the event, which has been selling out in recent years. From 5:30-9 p.m. on the 21st, the venue will have a wine bar, catered food, a holiday style show, gift bags, door prizes and one grand prize. Tickets are $15 each and available at Five Lakes Centre Office, The Extra Touch or Thompson Haugen Jewelers. For more information, email or call (507) 235-6242. Tickets are on sale through Nov. 14.

“It’s become a very elegant event,” Olson said.