For some owners of stores formerly located in the now closed Woodville Mall, the sting of last December is still with them. Forced out of their businesses days before Christmas, many are still angry about how they were treated and many are still trying to recoup, regroup and move forward.
Store owners in the mall, were told in December that the mall would be closed for health and safety reasons.
At that time, Brad Espen, Wood County director of environmental health, told The Press his department had been trying to work for months with the owner, Mehran Kohensieh, LLC, of Little Neck, New York, to no avail.
County and city officials toured the mall in early December and found a leaky and collapsing roof and ceiling, mold, wet carpeting, no heat and an inoperable fire suppression system.
At the time, Espen said the mall had to be closed immediately due to the health threats to those who worked in the mall and to customers.
Samir Aswad, the owner of the Gift Gallery, was so disgruntled by how he was treated by officials in Wood County and the City of Northwood, he decided to take his business elsewhere.
Aswad has moved the business to the Frenchtown Mall in Monroe, Mich. According to Aswad, the new Gift Gallery will open by April 1.
“I still miss the mall,” Aswad said. “We put our money in there and they kicked us out the week before Christmas. That is why I do not want to be in that area anymore. They knew what was going on and they gave approval for more restaurants and businesses to go into the mall. The problems that were there just did not happen overnight. They knew about them and did nothing.”
Reynolds, who grew up in the area, said she also misses the mall and agrees with her former business partner.
“I really miss the mall and the people who were there,” Reynolds said. “We all had big hopes and dreams because of the promises that were made to us when we went into the mall. I do not know why Wood County and Northwood let the mall owners get away with what they did for years. They should have made the owners fix up the mall. Why was the mall owner allowed to get away with stuff? They (Wood County and Northwood) passed the buck. There was no excuse for it. They would not let us stay open until Christmas. The problems at that mall were there for years and they knew about them. Really, what was different from one week until the next? To make us close the week before Christmas was horrible. That is the week retailers really need the most.”
Reynolds also has a very personal connection to the mall.
“I grew up in the area and I have great memories of the mall growing up,” Reynolds said. “I worked at Hot Sam and my husband worked at Hanover Shoes. That is how we met and we have been married 33 years.”
Refusing to go down without a fight, Reynolds has opened a new shop, Deb’s Body Jewelry and More, at the Great Eastern Shopping Center. The store carries body jewelry, fashion jewelry, incense, tobacco accessories, some clothing, wall tapestries, as well as home and garden decor.
Although she misses the mall, Reynolds said she is thrilled to be back in business. Reynolds added the owners of Great Eastern have been very proactive and helpful with the displaced businesses scrambling for a new home.
“This really is not the best time of year to start a business and it is not a great location being near the arcade, but people are starting to find us here,” Reynolds said. “When I first moved in, I had a leak in the roof over the storage room. The owners had it repaired the very next day. They have just been very helpful with those of us who had to find a new home quickly.”
Amish Country Store moves
For other store owners, the transition has been a fairly easy one to make.
Kelly Nelson, owner of The Amish Country Store, said he is very happy with the move.
“We are doing much better,” Nelson said. “The whole ordeal in December was bad, but we had to be over it in a hurry and get a new store together. The city and the county did what they had to do.”
The Amish Country Store specializes in homemade Amish foods straight from Holmes County, Ohio, the largest Amish community in the world. The store carries Amish pies, cakes, breads, jellies, lunch meats, cheeses, noodles and much more.
Nelson said he is hoping to expand the items in the store in the near future.
“We are much busier than we ever were at the mall,” Nelson said. “The management here have been super. If we have an issue, someone has been here within hours. The city has waived sign fees for us and the health department waived the inspection fees for us which helped because money has been tight. All in all, the city and county have been very helpful.”
Mindy Fehrmann, a sales associate at Hobby Outfitters and Hobby Stop West Raceway, agreed that business is doing much better since the move. She is also happy to report that working conditions have improved as well.
“It has been going great here,” Fehrmann said. “We have been pretty busy since we opened. I can’t say that I miss the mall. I have heat here,I do not have to worry about a roof falling on top of my head and there is no water leaking. I am actually warm doing my job.”
Happy to have heat
Sue Grover, owner of Sports Maniac and Tanning, is also happy to have heat.
“I can’t say that I miss the mall so much,” Grover said. “We have heat over here and management that cares about the tenants. I just love it over here.”
Grover, who opened Sports Maniac and Tanning in honor of her late son, DJ, spent 16 years at the Woodville Mall. Although she said the first few years were good, the last five years have been a struggle.
“We constantly had different management to deal with and they all made promises that were not kept,” Grover said. “The water from the roof would turn into icicles because there was no heat. I have a $5,000 tanning bed that was ruined. They cashed our checks and kept our security deposits and they did nothing for us. I can say that I do not miss the mold or the fact that I was sick all of the time when I was in the mall.”
Grover added that she too had a small leak in the roof of her new store, but management had fixed the issue within two hours.
“I was kind of shocked, really,” she said. “We were used to having to put buckets under the leaks.”
Sports Maniac and Tanning, has tons of sports memorabilia and, well, offers tanning. Grover said she has gained many new customers since moving.
“I have had diehard customers who did follow me,” she said. “I have also had new customers who said they did not visit our store prior because they did not want to walk through the mall and smell the mold.”
Doesn’t miss mall
Evelyn Robinson, owner of School Matters, said business has been slow since reopening last month, but she expects it to pick up once word gets out that the store is open.
“I don’t miss the mall hours and I like the environment at Great Eastern,” Robinson said. “We are all small business owners trying to make it so it is easy to relate to each other. We help each other out and we look out for each other. Management is awesome. They understand where we came from and work with us.”
School Matters specializes in school uniforms, children’s formal wear, children’s Easter clothing, urban wear, as well as prom wear. Closing at Christmas was not easy.
“Our busiest times of the year are back to school and Christmas,” she said. “If you are not open you just can’t make it up. We had just moved into the mall in July and I spent my advertising budget announcing I was in the mall. We had just unpacked our boxes. Right now, we do not have an advertising budget which hurts.”
Robinson said she fought to stay in Northwood because of the community.
“I love east side and Northwood,” she said. ‘The people and customers are friendly. We have had people come in and buy an item just to support us.”
Robert Saggese, senior leasing representative with Brixmor Property Group, out of Farmington Hills, MI, which owns Great Eastern, said he was thrilled to hear the new tenants were happy.
“We were very fortunate to be in a position to be able to accommodate as many of the businesses as we did,” Saggese said. “They are proving that there is a place for business, strong businesses in Northwood. These businesses are very loyal to Northwood and the east side and they wanted to stay in the area. So far, everything is good and I have been told that their business has picked up.”
Last month, Brixmor announced that Great Eastern was up for sale for $3.9 million. According to Saggese, the company is still looking for a large anchor business to replace Value City or Jo-Ann Fabrics, which is set to move across from Westfield Franklin Park Mall at the end of April.
“The plan was to have a new Kroger come into Great Eastern,” Saggese said. “The intention was to bring Kroger in there, but, because of the economy, Kroger pulled back.”
Saggese said although Great Eastern is up for sale, management will do everything in its power to keep the tenants happy.
“We extended an olive branch and rolled out the red carpet for them,” Saggese said. “We are in it for the long haul with them and we are pulling for their success.”
Deb’s Body Jewelry and More is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Sunday, 1-6 p.m. The store is closed Monday and Tuesday.
Sports Maniac and Tanning is open Monday - Friday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Hours on Saturday are 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sundays, they are open noon - 5 p.m.
The Amish Country Store, is open Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. And Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
School Matters is open Monday -Friday, 11 a.m. -7 p.m, Saturday, 12-5 p.m. and by appointment on Sundays.