Occupancy at Sandpoint’s Bonner Mall has leapt from about 65 percent at the end of 1994 to about 80 percent.
In 1995 alone, 30,000 of the mall’s 186,200 square feet - 16 percent - has been leased to new retailers, said Machelle Dinneen, a leasing agent for R.W. Robideaux and Co. who also manages the mall.
Some credit the rebound to the arrival of discount giant Wal-Mart, which is constructing a 100,000-square-foot store north of Sandpoint.
Things weren’t always so rosy at Bonner Mall. In March 1991, the mall filed for bankruptcy. It emerged as a newly reorganized entity three years later, in March 1994.
Last month, the Kitchenery, a kitchen supplies store, leased 1,725 square feet in the mall. About the same time, a Sears appliance, electronics, garden and hardware store moved into 8,832 square feet.
“With Wal-Mart moving in and the growth happening, we thought this would be the best place to locate,” said Sears owner Daniel Lister.
In September, Lifestyle Sports opened its second location, a 12,000-square-foot sporting goods store. Lifestyle also has a 3,400-square-foot store in Silver Lake Mall in Coeur d’Alene. Another new retailer, Rosholt Shoe Repair, plans to open in early December with 720 square feet.
“It’s been a tremendous year,” Dinneen said. “It’s been kind of an explosion just in the last year.”
Not everyone is so confident. John Klager owns the Whistle Stop Cafe in Sandpoint and is past president of the downtown business association.
Some people may expect a boom, but business is down right now, he said, pointing to a paucity of tourist inquiries at the Chamber of Commerce and the recent closings of two restaurants as examples.
Growth at the mall, Klager said, is due to people investing in the future. “I think people feel the area has potential so they’re getting in now,” he said. “Whether or not that potential is realized is another story.”