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January 30, 2019

Amid Cook's Corner Mall changes, one retailer moves to Topsham Fair Mall

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Topsham Fair Mall, which focuses on locally owned businesses, will be the new home of Kim's Hallmark, which is moving from the Cook's Corner Mall in Brunswick.

Kim's Hallmark, a long-time tenant in Brunswick's Cook's Corner shopping center, is moving to another area shopping complex — the Topsham Fair Mall.

The card and gift store's move to the mall off Interstate 295 Exit 31A adds to its heavy locally owned flavor — Topsham Fair Mall is anchored by Maine chains Renys and Hannaford, and has several other Maine-owned stores in its 200,000 square feet.

Those include Lamey-Wellehan shoe store, which moved there from Cook's Corner in 2014.

The Kim's move comes after owners of the Cook's Corner shopping center announced earlier this month that Hannaford Supermarkets will open a 50,000-square-foot store there. It will occupy space left vacant by Bookland after that store closed several years ago, as well as the former Lamey-Wellehan space, and the unit occupied by Staples office supply store, which is moving to the interior section of the mall.

Doug Williams, owner of Kim's, said Staples will occupy the space where his store is, and so he's taken up the Topsham Fair Mall owner's offer to move to that shopping center.

At Topsham Fair Mall, Kim's will replace longtime tenant Beverly's Card & Gift, which will close at the end of March when the owner retires, said John Larson, who owns much of the mall with his wife, June.

Larson said the conversation with Williams began over a year ago, when he was trying to come up with possible candidates to fill the Beverly's Card & Gift space once it closed.

Larson told Mainebiz Wednesday that he talked to "two or three prospects" hoping someone would take over the card and gift shop, which does good business.

He said another card and gift store is a logical use for the location. "And it's in the best location in the mall, literally next to Hannaford," which anchors the north end of the mall.

Larson said when he first approached Williams, it was to ask if he'd consider opening a Kim's in addition to the one at Cook's Corner. Williams also owns a Kim's in Massachusetts.

Williams said he wasn't looking to move as he waited for information on his lease renewal at Cook's Corner, but then the changes at the mall on Bath Road prompted the decision to relocate.

"We've had a highly successful store with very loyal customers for many years and I had no strong desire to move," williams said in a news release. "However, the significant reduction in business in recent years due to the major long-term vacancies at Cook's Corner combined with my inability to secure a commitment to renew my lease, apparently due to the new owner's decision to relocate Staples to the current location of our store, gave me reason to consider alternatives."

The new lease was worked out between the Topsham Fair Mall and Williams, without the involvement of brokers, Larson said.

Kim's, however, won't be in the 3,300-square foot Beverly's location, which was too small.

It will be in 4,000 square feet that for many years housed Major's Mobility. After the medical equipment store closed a few years ago, a consignment store was in the space, which has been empty for about a year.

The space has to be renovated, and the store will open some time in the spring, Larson said.

'Enormous amount of foot traffic'

Aside from Hannaford, which is undergoing a major renovation, the 200,000-square-foot mall also has a 32,000-square-foot Renys department store at the south end.

Larson said the combination of the two anchors is one reason the mall does well.

"A supermarket is the best primary anchor," and having Renys, which opened there in 2011, is like having two supermarkets, he said.

"They both generate an enormous amount of foot traffic on a daily basis."

While shoppers may not stop at other stores in the mall when they're doing their grocery shopping, they see what else is at the center, and that familiarity leads many to become regular customers of the other stores.

The stores in between the two anchors are Beverly's, Little Caesar's Pizza, C&D Laundry, Cigaret Shopper, Cutting Crew hair salon, Day's Jewelers, Fairground Cafe, Star Nails, JOANN Fabric & Crafts, HIghbrow gift shop, Gamebox, Pet Life and New England Fitness. Kim's will be between Cutting Crew and Day's Jewelers.

The mall has lost stores over the past few years, but also continues to fill spaces and generate traffic.

In the past few years, Gamebox has relocated and expanded, Pet Life has moved in and JOANN, Fairground Cafe and New England Fitness have all expanded.

"Twice in the case of JOANN," Larson said.

That store, one of the few in the mall that isn't a Maine-based business, is in 18,000 square feet.

Also in the building, on the other side of Renys, are Bedderrest, Lamey-Wellehan and Smitty's Cinema.

Free standing businesses that share the parking lot include Panera Bread, Ruby Tuesday, Bank of America ATM, Norway Savings Bank, Sunset Farms (a seasonal plants/Christmas trees seller) and Sunset Sundaes (a seasonal ice cream stand).

Larson owns the 65,000 feet of retail space between Renys and Hannaford, as well as that occupied by Ruby Tuesday and Sunset Farms and Sundaes.

But, he said, "We try to market the entire mall as a single entity, as well as promoting the entire Mall area."

Larson said he believes the mall is unique in its focus on Maine-owned businesses.

Hannaford, Renys, Day's Jewelers and Lamey-Wellehan are all Maine-based chains, and the smaller stores are locally owned as well. Pet Life, which was founded and still headquartered in Augusta, has stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

He said when he and his wife, June, acquired the mall in 2003, they "made the decision to provide a home for local merchants," which often get ignored in favor of national ones, which are considered more "bankable."

"We, on the other hand, feel local owners have a better sense of the local marketplace and pay more attention to their operation," he said.

He believes the shopping center has the largest percentage of locally owned businesses of any similar-sized one in Maine.

He said, though, that it's a struggle to find stores, particularly women's clothing retailers.

"The universe of retail stores continues to shrink in the face of the internet and mega-stores, especially local businesses," he said.

Part of bigger picture

The mall is on Route 196 and bordered by Interstate 295. It's part of a larger retail neighborhood that also includes a number of restaurants, another mall farther down Topsham Fair Mall road, which has an anchor Target store, and Home Depot.

Central Maine Healthcare also recently opened the Topsham Care Center in 44,000 square feet previously occupied by Best Buy and a Dollar Store, just south of the Topsham Fair Mall.

The health center, "is a terrific addition to the area," Larson said.

Williams said the opportunity to locate Kim's in a shopping center anchored by a renovated Hannaford, and busy Renys and JOANN stores, convinced him to make the move.

"I am confident," he said, "that our current customers will follow us to the new location and that they will be joined by customers who previously frequented Beverly's for cards and gifts."

Larson said that customers tend to be creatures of habit, but that he believes Kim's customers will follow it to Topsham Fair Mall. He agreed with Williams that that those used to shopping at Beverly's will be happy to find a similar store at the mall after Beverly's closes.

Larson said that the success of the Topsham Fair Mall wasn't always guaranteed.

When he was working on a project in the early 1980s on Bath Road in Brunswick, "I remember saying 'Why would anyone build a shopping center across the river? It doesn't make sense.'"

But development of the Route 1 Coastal Connector from the Route 196 exit in the 1990s boosted the mall.

Now about 54,000 cars a day go by the site bounded by Interstate 295 and Route 196.

"Now [the mall] is at the corner of Main and Main," he said.

Other developments, including the expansion of Walmart into a Supercenter store, approvals for Home Depot and more, many of which Larson had a hand in, added to the appeal of the commercial area.

"Now there's critical mass," he said. "And every single one of those people going to Home Depot or Target has to drive by [the Topsham Fair Mall]."

Gamble paid off

Once Kim's moves in and Beverly's closes, there will be two vacant units at the mall.

Waterville-based Maine Made & More, which opened there in 2017, recently closed.

The store, which also has a seasonal shop in Belgrade Lakes, was in the midst of a move from its 93 Main St. location in Waterville to space in that city's Concourse, which previously was home to Beverly's Cardsmart. Beverly's Cards & Gifts, at Elm Plaza in Waterville, will remain open.

"We have serious interest from three prospects, all of which indicated that, for scheduling and budgetary reasons, they would not be ready to make a decision until this year," he said. "We hope they will decide to move ahead and we believe that adding Kim's to the tenant roster, in addition to the continued development elsewhere in the mall area, will help in this regard.

Larson said that while he doesn't own all the space after his partners bought him out of his Renys building ownership last spring, he feels it's all part of a whole.

"We try to market the mall and the entire area as a single entity, as that is how it is known and operates," he said.

The mall, among other things, sponsors Maine State Music Theatre's shows each season in the name of "Topsham Fair Mall."

"We feel the overall success of the entire area will benefit everyone," he said. "As the saying goes, 'a rising tide lifts all the boats' and we have a fairly sizable vessel in this particular harbor."

Larson said he and his wife, who live in Brunswick, don't own any other commercial property.

"We plowed every cent we had (including our son's college fund) into the purchase of this property," he said. "In my previous capacity with a major developer, I was primarily responsible for the major retail expansion further to the south on Topsham Fair Mall Road as one of my last projects, and the opportunity to purchase the property presented itself and I felt it had great potential."

He said they've been fortunate the gamble worked out. And the college fund may have been gone, but that worked out, too — their son, Jeffrey, now works with his parents, managing the property.

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