Willmar JCPenney closing unfortunate but not a surprise to Kandi Mall owners
Last week JCPenney announced the Willmar location in the Kandi Mall would be one of four Minnesota stores to shut down in the first round of store closures as the company reorganizes under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Mall owner RockStep Capital has been expecting the move and is already working on bringing a new tenant to the space.
WILLMAR — The news last week that the JCPenney in Willmar's Kandi Mall would be one of approximately 154 stores to be closed by the bankrupt retailer did not come as a surprise to mall ownership.
"We were expecting it to close a while ago," said Andy Weiner, RockStep Capital president.
J.C. Penney Co. had accidentally renewed its lease with the mall several months ago and had to tell RockStep it was a mistake, giving the mall ownership fair warning about what was coming. The store was also a low-volume location, so it didn't fit into JCPenney's future plans.
According to the June 4 news release from JCPenney announcing the closings of 154 of its department stores, it said it was going to focus on its strongest stores and e-commerce as it works to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
RockStep expects to take over the JCPenney space this fall, following the going-out-of-business sale. That sale should begin this month and run for 10 to 16 weeks, the JCPenney release said.
"We are working on a back fill plan," Weiner said. "We hope to have a new tenant in 2021."
This will be the third anchor store to have closed at the Kandi Mall in the last eight years. Kmart closed in 2012, followed by Herberger's in 2018.
Kohl's department store moved into half of the Kmart space last year, and tool and equipment retailer Harbor Freight will be opening in half of the remaining space this year.
Weiner said there is also another national retailer interested in what is left of the old Kmart space. Plans have been pushed back by the coronavirus, but Weiner is still optimistic it will happen.
The Herberger's space, at nearly 80,000 square feet, remains empty.
While the closing of JCPenney is disappointing, Weiner said there is a lot of good happening at the mall. Dunham's Sports is planning on expanding its footprint at the mall and RockStep is now offering free or reduced rents to help new businesses open up in the mall.
"We started that campaign two weeks ago," Weiner said. More information can be found on the mall's website at kandimall.com or its Facebook page .
One issue that comes up again and again regarding the Kandi Mall is the condition of its parking lot, which is full of potholes and cracks. Weiner said the parking lot is not where he would like it to be and improvements are being made.
When Kohl's opened, a portion of the parking lot on the south side, immediately in front of the Kohl's external entrance, was resurfaced. That will continue to happen as new tenants move in.
"As we add the new national tenants, we will complete an upgrade of the parking lots adjacent to the new tenants," Weiner said.
Weiner believes there is still opportunity for malls in today's commercial climate, but they won't be 100 percent retail anymore. Malls will need to diversify and bring in nontraditional tenants from education and medical to housing and office space.
"You are seeing it across the board," Weiner said.