WILLMAR - The Kandi Mall's southside anchor location has stood empty since 2012 when Kmart closed. For the past four years, Kohl's has been eyeing Willmar as a possible location for a new store, according to Andy Weiner, CEO of RockStep Capital, owners of the mall.
"We are thrilled to have Kohl's open up a 40,000-square-foot store in the former Kmart building," Weiner said in an email to the West Central Tribune. "They believe they will have a very strong store here."
The news that the national department store, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, was officially on its way came Tuesday during the meeting of the Willmar City Council, when Mayor Marv Calvin announced the store had taken out a building permit to do some preliminary construction work at the old Kmart site.
The work approved by the permit is to split the former Kmart into two separate spaces, with Kohl's filling a portion of one of those.
According to a Rockstep Capital property brochure, the former Kmart space is more than 90,000 square feet.
Weiner said an opening date has not been set, but it is hoped the store will open sometime this year.
"It will be sometime in the fourth quarter of this year," between October and December, Weiner said.
Kohl's corporate office, when contacted by the Tribune, had no information to share about Willmar's store.
The Willmar store's planned size will be about half the size of a regular Kohl's, which is around 80,000 square feet.
According to a March 2018 news release from Kohl's, the department store chain had opened approximately 12 stores between 2016 and 2018 that were around 35,000 square feet, about 60 percent smaller than an average Kohl's, as part of the company's strategy to open up smaller stores in both large and small markets, including cities the size of Willmar. The small stores are constructed to be flexible and efficient, with attention spent on stocking the store with the merchandise the individual community is interested in, the news release said.
"We have a really big idea with Kohl's smallest format store," said Kevin Mansell in the 2018 release. He was then the Kohl's CEO, president and chairman. "The format is much more efficient and gives us a massive amount of flexibility to meet the needs of our customers in small and large markets."
RockStep Capital will continue to work on filling the other space at the Kmart location, as well as elsewhere in the mall.
"We are also working with three other national tenants for the remainder of the Kohl's and several tenants who are considering portions of the former Herberger's store," Weiner said.
Herberger's had occupied the 77,500-square-foot anchor location at the opposite end of the mall. The store closed in August, part of a nationwide liquidation of parent company Bon-Ton Stores Inc. The separate Herberger's Home Store had closed earlier in the summer.
Based on comments on the West Central Tribune's Facebook page, the public is excited about the new retail opportunity Kohl's presents.
By Wednesday morning, the Tribune's original story on the Kohl's announcement during the City Council meeting had been shared 411 times, 99 comments had been left and 443 people liked, loved or reacted by clicking the "wow" icon on the post.
"Welcome to Willmar, Kohl's," Mary Hovland commented on the Tribune's Facebook page.
According to its website, Kohl's, a publicly traded company, operates more than 1,100 stores. The company was founded by Polish immigrant Maxwell Kohl, who opened a grocery store in 1927. The first department store opened in 1962 in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
The Kandi Mall, opened in 1973, was purchased in by RockStep Capital in 2015. RockStep Capital owns 19 retail properties across the country. The mall was purchased from J. Herzog & Sons Inc., of Denver, which had owned the Willmar mall for more than 10 years.