Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville is seeing some signs of recovery after a rough couple of years that included the departure of two major anchors and fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Things are picking up,” said Mahmoud Al-Hadidi of mall owner Stockbridge Enterprises near Detroit. “We’re hoping to pick up some more tenants. Everybody is doing well, and sales are back up.”
The most noticeable change at the mall at 150 Pearl Nix Parkway is construction of a new Firestone Complete Auto Care, near the old Sears store and overlooking Dawsonville Highway. The 5,700-square-foot, seven-bay tire store is occupying a former parking lot.
Firestone officials couldn’t be reached for comment on the store’s progress or estimated opening.
“I think they’re going to open this year,” Al-Hadidi said.
The Furniture Store has been at the mall in the old J.C. Penney location since March while its location off Browns Bridge Road is under renovation, co-owner Martha Blalock said.
The business hopes to return to the Brown Bridge store within a couple of months, she said.
Al-Hadidi said he has prospects for vacant spots at the mall, as well as for an outparcel next to Firestone, but “nothing serious.”
Still, “there is a lot of interest in the mall because of its location,” he said. “But, as owners, we’re not going to give it away. We really need a fair market rent on the property. If we wait a year or 10 years, we’re just not going to give it away.”
He said the mall is at 70% occupancy, not counting temporary leases, such as The Furniture Store’s.
Vacancies are staggered throughout the mall, but perhaps none more noticeable than Sears, which left Lakeshore in March 2019. The store had been in Gainesville for more than 50 years, including more than 30 at Lakeshore.
J.C. Penney left in 2020 as one of the retailer's 154 stores nationwide that closed as part of bankruptcy proceedings.
And then came one of the mall’s stoutest challenges — the pandemic.
“COVID hit us really hard, with the lockdown and the restrictions,” Al-Hadidi said. “We didn’t lose any staff. We maintained all our staff — security, housekeeping, management.”
Also, the mall was able to keep most of its tenants, he said.
Rubi Avalos is one of the mall’s newest tenants, opening Downtown Nutrition, a healthy drinks and shakes store.
Her brother and the store’s co-owner, Junior Avalos, stumbled upon the location, as the siblings had been eyeing a location across the street.
“Before I was here, I did not pay attention to the mall,” Rubi said. “It’s crazy that, as lonely as (the mall) may seem, a lot of people come here. The weekends are packed.”
She is, of course, hoping to benefit from the crowds.
“The only thing is we need a sign out (front), but we just opened,” Rubi said. “It’s coming.”