Since it opened nearly 40 years ago, Mesa Mall has been a retail powerhouse, the largest shopping center in a 250-mile radius that has lured shoppers from eastern Utah and several counties surrounding Grand Junction. It has remained a big draw even as big-box stores have popped up in communities like Glenwood Springs and Montrose.
But then, two years ago this month, Sports Authority went out of business. The retail space at the mall has remained vacant, save for a few temporary tenants, such as a costume shop around Halloween. And the closure next month of Herberger's — parent company Bon-Ton stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy — will leave the mall without two of its anchor tenants.
Despite the vacancies and the ever-changing retail market, mall officials say they are continuously working to fill vacant stores, negotiating with businesses and adapting to new trends. It also appears that potential retailers and restaurateurs have faith the mall will continue to be at the center of shopping in Grand Junction, as the retail area surrounding the mall continues to be one of the most popular places in town in the commercial real estate market.
"We remain optimistic regarding the retail environment here in Grand Junction and the surrounding communities," Mesa Mall General Manager Paul Peterson said in an email to The Daily Sentinel. "The majority of commercial development in Grand Junction is happening within a 2-mile radius of the center, positioning Mesa Mall in the core of the fastest growing retail, restaurant and financial sector of the valley."
Peterson declined in-person and phone interviews, and responded via email to an interview request by providing questions and answers from the mall's perspective.
The mall is owned by Washington Prime Group, a real estate investment trust company that owns more than 100 shopping centers across the country. The company was established in 2014, spinning off from the Simon Property Group, which previously owned the mall.
Peterson wrote in his email that the closure of Herberger's and Sports Authority, along with other vacancies, brings opportunities for something new for mall guests. He highlighted three new tenants, including Modern Man Barbershop, New Apparel and Athleisure, and Silver Summit Jewelry and Gifts, which he said are all local businesses.
Aside from the large former Sports Authority space, three other spaces appear to be vacant in the mall. Mesa Jewelers has signs posted for a "moving/closing" sale, and Mesa Jewelers owner John Kelly previously told the Sentinel that he plans to open a store downtown, but he has not said for certain that the mall location will close.
Kelly declined an interview for this story, stating that discussions with the mall were ongoing.
In addressing the vacant Sports Authority and the soon-to-be closed Herberger's, Peterson said negotiations are happening, but it is too early to disclose any further news.
Target, JC Penney, Sears and Cabela's are the mall's remaining four anchor tenants.
"The redevelopment of a former department store space typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete, but all projects are different," Peterson said in his email, regarding the Herberger's store's pending closure.
Mesa Mall opened in 1980 — Sears opened in 1979 — and since that time, commercial real estate in that area has grown immensely as other retailers and restaurants have sought to be near what is the only enclosed shopping center between Denver and Salt Lake City.
Across the country, malls have shuttered, been demolished and reborn as new "lifestyle" destination areas, some of which include grocers, movie theaters, gyms, a host of restaurants and smaller retailers.
Peterson said it's too early to share any details regarding any possible redevelopment project; however, he said Mesa Mall's owners are committed to "reinventing the retail experience."
Meanwhile, retail properties surrounding the mall are more popular and more expensive than ever, according to local commercial brokers. The tax district around the mall includes the area north of U.S. Highway 6&50 west of 24½ Road. Along with the 24 Road corridor, the district accounts for a little more than 20 percent of the city's retail sales tax, bringing in a little more than $9 million in 2017. That number has increased steadily since 2012 — aside from a small dip in 2014 — according to city Finance Director Jodi Romero.
Though the amount of sales tax revenue generated by the district encompassing the mall has grown in recent years, the mall's percentage of sales within the district has dropped. In 2012, Romero said the mall accounted for 64 percent of the district's retail sales. That number dipped to 56 percent last year.
"The mall is where they want to be by, because the mall brings that traffic," Bray Real Estate Broker Associate Sid Squirrell said.
Between the mall district and the U.S. Highway 6&50 district, which includes the Rimrock Shopping Center, the two make up about 43 percent of the city's total sales tax.
Near the mall, chain restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili's, Red Lobster and Olive Garden are all viewed as successful. City Market, which opened in 2010, Home Depot and Kohl's also remain big drivers to the area near the intersection of Patterson and 24 roads.
Squirrell, who has leased several properties in the Mesa Mall corridor, said there is little concern regarding large big-box stores leaving the mall.
Commercial broker Brian Bray agrees. He also believes the mall will remain viable as it is a regional draw for the Grand Valley and brings in people from the surrounding counties.
"This is their hub, this is where they come to shop once a month or once a quarter. … It's still a great piece of real estate," Bray said. "You could see another big-box leave and that's not going to change what is going on because that's a main corridor."
Losing another anchor tenant is not out of the realm of possibility for the mall. Sears announced in May that it was closing 63 stores across the country, and JC Penney reported a loss of more than $100 million in its last fiscal year. For the time being, both Grand Junction stores remain unaffected.
Despite online sales creeping up and people spending less time shopping in stores, Squirrell said the retail market will never disappear. People still want to physically touch items before buying them and try on clothing.
"Retail is not going away. It's just going to be different and an experience," he said.
Experts, such as RetailNext Marketing Director Ray Hartjen, said consumers no longer go to the mall and spend three or four hours window shopping. He said they do research ahead of time and go into a store knowing what they are looking for and what they want.
Instead of trying to keep shoppers inside the mall, he believes allowing for a quick getaway is more important as far as a "shopping experience" goes.
"You don't need an amusement park, just make it easy and convenient," he said.
RetailNext provides in-store analysis and analytical data for retail establishments across the country — including multiple malls — and is based in San Jose, California.
Loveland city planner Caleb Jackson — who is also a recent graduate from the University of Colorado at Denver and did an independent study looking at shopping malls — said that indoor malls have died in some areas, but others have continued to thrive.
From the malls he visited across the country during his study, Jackson said the ones that do the best know their market and continue to evolve.
"There definitely is still a market in some areas for enclosed suburban shopping malls. Some do really well," Jackson said. "It's just important to be creative and think of uses that are out of that box."
How the Mesa Mall will adjust will be discovered over time, but in the meantime, Peterson said his goal is for the mall to be a gathering space for the community.
He noted that the mall will play host to several events later this year, including a "Back-to-School Bash" and a "Freedom Festival," a patriotic event hosted in coordination with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to honor local veterans. That event will take place in September.
"By continuing to provide a mix of things to do and things to buy, we will deliver the right combination of retail, dining, entertainment, services, activities and events to keep guests engaged and returning often," Peterson wrote.