A Shopko Hometown store will soon occupy a large chunk of real estate in the Mountain Mall, displacing some businesses while filling a niche in the community, the mall’s property manager said.
The Wisconsin-based retail chain recently signed a lease with mall owners Carrington Co. for a 37,500-square-foot space in the center of the mall. Shopko Hometown is the chain’s newest concept, aimed at smaller communities ranging from 3,000 to 8,000 in population, and carrying about 70 percent of the merchandise carried at its larger stores while requiring less than half the space.
The store will add between 25 and 30 jobs to the mall. Interior construction will begin in February, and the store is slated to open in September 2015.
“Shopko Hometown offers products that fill a niche in the community, one that for years residents have been screaming at us to fill,” Tom Kraus, property manager and lease director of the mall, said. “We call it the socks-and-underwear scenario. We are trying to provide moderately priced merchandise and clothing that has been lacking in Whitefish for years, and this small-town format of Shopko will fill that niche. We are pretty excited about it.”
In June, Whitefish City Council approved the use of $200,000 in tax-increment funds to assist with a remodel of the mall. Shopko’s lease agreement with the mall was contingent upon the mall remodeling its façade, and the council previously denied the mall’s application for tax increment funds. When the council approved an amended application, the lease was finalized.
The mall renovation will cost an estimated $3.7 million, and will include replacing the original block exterior with natural stone and stucco, similar to the recently remodeled Sportsman and Ski Haus.
“We are thrilled with the way the Sportsman and Ski Haus turned out, and we asked CTA [Architects Engineers] to design something that would complement their design but would still allow them their unique style,” Kraus said.
Kraus said the Shopko store would increase the city’s tax base and resort tax, add jobs and provide moderately priced clothing, furniture and other merchandise.
“We think it’s a win-win for the community,” he said
Not everyone was as enthusiastic about the mall’s new tenant, however, and some took to social media to decry the Shopko lease. A Facebook page called “Whitefish Shopko? No thank you” lashed out against the department store because it displaces current tenants running small, local businesses.
According to Kraus, the department store will displace about eight businesses, all but two of which have already or are in the process of relocating.
Whitefish Dance Studio, the Flying Fish Kids’ Gym, Nature Baby Outfitter, Taco Del Sol, Montana Olive Oil Inc., SenSAYetional Golf, Club Bed Tanning, Bonsai Brewing Project and Ben Franklin all will be affected by the construction.
One commenter wrote on the anti-Shopko Facebook page that there are too few affordable options in Whitefish for small business owners to rent.
“Big business takes the heart out of what makes this community thrive,” she stated in the comment section. “Not to mention a 10-minute drive can get you to Target, Walmart, Home Depot.”
Others commented that Shopko would bring much-needed jobs to the area.
Kraus said Shopko’s small-town format is a good fit for Whitefish, and the façade remodel will add an aesthetic quality that has been missing at the Mountain Mall.
He said there is still work to do navigating the planning process.
“We have a big job ahead of us but we are very excited to be doing this project. We think it’s good for the community and we think it’s good for the shopping center because we have a new long-term tenant. So we are going to work hard to get it done,” Kraus said.
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