Pine Ridge Mall evolving from retail to experience-based orientation |…

CHUBBUCK — Pine Ridge Mall Manager Drake Taylor says the facility he oversees is in the midst of a fundamental shift in orientation that should help it evolve and thrive into the future.

The core department stores that once represented the mall’s major draw are disappearing. Earlier this month the community learned Shopko will be the mall’s next retail casualty, poised to close on May 5.

Many nontraditional tenants are filling the retail void and giving the mall new life, Taylor said. Taylor and other local leaders discussed the mall’s future Monday morning, during a ceremony in which the mall’s owner, Farmer Companies, donated $3,000 to support the economic development efforts of Bannock Development Corp.

“In this evolving environment of e-commerce, businesses need also to evolve, and if you don’t evolve, you will die,” Taylor said. “The direction the mall is going is providing more experience-based opportunities.”

The mall has been moving into uncharted waters in recent years. One former Pine Ridge Mall department store is now being renovated to serve as the new location of Gem Prep Charter School. A section of asphalt in the mall parking area will soon be replaced with turf and playground equipment for the school’s student body.

Another space vacated by a core retail tenant is home to the new Planet Fitness gym. A church, called Pocatello Christian Outreach Center, and an escape room, which tests the wits of groups who are “locked” inside, also now call the mall home.

Even C-A-L Ranch, which occupies former department store space and caters to the agricultural community, isn’t a typical mall tenant.

“It’s a tough economy, but those who know how to evolve are doing well,” Taylor said. “The overall condition of this property is very healthy.”

Taylor said mall merchants are reporting strong sales recently, despite the mounting obstacles facing retailers.

“The majority of businesses are seeing increased business,” Taylor said. “Some are seeing significant increases; others are seeing smaller (gains).”

Retail still has a place in the mall’s future. Natasha Imbagliazzo, of Pocatello, is planning a grand opening for her own shop, to be called New and Seconds, on March 1. Imbagliazzo is poised to move into the small space that Planet Fitness had used as an office to register clients.

Imbagliazzo has long supplemented her husband’s income by purchasing used clothing online and reselling it on eBay. She’ll offer both new and used clothing at her store. She said she’s been encouraged by the evolution she’s witnessed recently at the mall and is optimistic she’ll have plenty of customer traffic.

“We moved here about two years ago, and the first few times we visited the mall it was empty,” said Imbagliazzo, who enjoys walking in the mall’s corridors. “Those (customer) numbers seem to be increasing in the last six to eight months.”

Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England has also been pleased to see the mall changing with the times rather than giving up. England said the mall has been seeking more creative solutions to remain viable ever since Missouri-based Farmer Companies purchased it about five years ago.

“With the last owners of this mall, it was pretty evident to us that they used this mall as a tax write-off. As we’d write them letters, as we’d talk about things we could do to revitalize the mall, they really weren’t particularly interested,” England said.

He said the current owners met with city leaders within weeks of taking over and brought a change in approach.

“Their attitude was, ‘We know the landscape of malls in this country is changing. We’ve got to be able to evolve,’” England said. “If you’ve watched what they’ve done over five years, they really have.”

John Regetz, president and CEO with Bannock Development, said both the mall and his organization face a similar mission of attracting new businesses to the community. He said the funds will help Bannock Development pursue current leads in the manufacturing, office and logistics areas.

Taylor said the mall does not own the Shopko location, but he’s confident the owners are pursuing several options with potential future tenants.

Taylor said Planet Fitness will occupy only half of the former Herberger’s department store. The mall owns the other half and has been leasing space to PrimeTime Auctions. He said the mall has had considerable interest from national retailers in leasing the remainder of the space — though he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an agreement with another nontraditional business.

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