Kokomo Mall’s new face has done well for its newest anchor, the store’s owner said.
Robert Miller & Son Furniture opened earlier this month in its new location after the first of three phases finished in the mall’s conversion into the Kokomo Town Center.
“It was way above and beyond what I expected,” said Mark Nichols, co-owner of the furniture store. “When we signed the lease, I had no idea how extensively they were going to redo the outside of the building, and I’m really pleased with that. Everybody makes positive comments about the outside.”
Scott Pitcher, president of the project’s general contractor, Fortune Management Inc., said his firm is waiting to hear from the property’s California-based owner before moving on to the second phase of the “de-malling.”
Representatives with the mall’s owner did not respond to interview requests for this story.
Crews will next work on JCPenney on the north end of the business strip. The third phase will involve tearing down the back half of the mall, Pitcher said.
The work began last year after Kokomo Mall lost one of its anchors, Elder-Beerman.
The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., which owns Elder-Beerman, closed at Kokomo Mall in November. The retail company then opened as a Carson’s in the Markland Mall, where executives expected to pull in more foot traffic.
Soon after The Bon-Ton Stores announced its plans to move to Markland Mall, Kokomo Mall revealed plans to convert from an indoor mall to the outdoor-oriented Kokomo Town Center.
Robert Miller & Son, at that time, was looking for a new location because its previous store on U.S. 31 in Sharpsville was going to lose its direct access to the state highway because of the future bypass. Customers would have had to drive 3 miles out of the way to reach the furniture vendor.
The move to Kokomo gave the store 12,000 more square feet for its showroom, which has allowed it to expand its existing product lines and start selling carpeting, sunroom furniture and youth furniture.
“We always had calls for youth [furniture], and we basically in the past gave that portion of the business to the competition for the most part,” Nichols said.
Sales have picked up from the move, he said. Along with being in a heavier-traffic area, customers at neighboring businesses, such as Discount Tire, often wander to the furniture store while they are in the area.
“Traffic is better,” he said. “Everybody wants to see the new store, so they’re coming in.”
Theresa Williams, the director of Indiana University’s Center for Education and Research in Retailing, said Kokomo Town Center will need to clearly define itself in order to succeed.
The complex will either need to be a strip mall style, which focuses on convenience and value, or a lifestyle center style, which combines high-end shops with restaurants and entertainment, Williams said.
Mixing the two styles rarely works, she said.
“It works if they can stick with a strategy,” she said. “There’s a clear message of what we offer. ... If they start to get nervous about renting space and don’t follow strategy, then the message gets weaker.”
Considering businesses that already exist at Kokomo Town Center, including those in the mall as well as those in the outlots — Discount Tire, Panera Bread, Chuck E. Cheese’s and Rally’s Hamburgers, the mall should concentrate on convenience and value, Williams said. Kokomo’s demographics also justify having a strip mall over a lifestyle center, she said.
“It would make no sense to have a lifestyle center,” she said. “‘What’s Chuck E. Cheese doing in front of a Tiffany’s?’ That makes no sense whatsoever. With the demographics and unemployment in Kokomo, the value customer’s what they should be trying to attract.”
• Daniel Human is the Kokomo Tribune business reporter. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at email@example.com.