BOWLING GREEN - Four years ago the future looked grim for the Woodland Mall here. The enclosed retail had a vacancy rate of 35 percent and a large anchor store that had been empty since 1993.
"We had out-of-state owners prior to 2001 and when you're in a small market, a lot of the national stores and larger chains are looking at higher demographics and larger malls," said Beth Genson, the mall's manager since 1988.
But in 2001, a Bowling Green real estate businessman bought the mall and attempted improvement. Last year, the 18-year-old mall was purchased by a northwest Ohio investment group intent on making it succeed.
That group, known as Woodland Mall LLC, is made up of Ramy Eidi, a commercial real estate executive; Chuck Sallah, a Toledo lawyer, and Jim Sallah, an uncle of Chuck and a developer in Gloucester, Mass.
From the start, the three took an aggressive marketing stance, and in just over a year the 272,000-square-foot mall is 99 percent leased.
Even better, next Thursday Steve & Barry's University Sportswear, a clothing retailer headquartered in Port Washington, N.Y., is to open a store in the mall. The company was named the hottest retailer in the nation last spring by the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Steve & Barry's has 80 stores in 27 states and sells casual clothing with no item more than $10. It will have a 44,000-square-foot store in the mall.
Dave Long, a commercial real estate agent with CB Richard Ellis/Reichle Klein in Maumee, said mall owners and developers in the Toledo area have chased after Steve & Barry's for over a year with no luck.
"Steve & Barry's is one of the most sought-after retailers in the United States right now," he said. "It's a real coup for [the owners]."
Retail experts say Steve & Barry's pursues mall sites where the company does not have to pay a lot of rent. Mall owners are willing to accept low rents because the retailer attracts so many customers.
"Woodland will capture a lot of business from Perrysburg and Toledo because of that one retailer," Mr. Long predicted.
Mr. Eidi said the addition of the store, which should attract Bowling Green State University students, will help in making deals to get tenants into separate buildings near Main Street.
Woodland's tenant mix is not upscale. Its main anchors are Elder-Beerman and Dunham's Sports. Other larger retailers are a Sears appliance and hardware store, a five-screen cinema, and a restaurant/banquet hall. Ten of its 35 stores are national retailers. Steve & Barry's will be the 11th.
To fill space, the mall has turned to nontraditional tenants, including a church, a martial arts studio, a dance studio, and a fitness club. The group and type of mall occupants are expected to stay intact, Mr. Eidi said. "We believe it's a perfect tenant mix: middle of the line."
- Jon Chavez