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Supermall Gets So-So Reviews Some Stores Doing Well While Others Struggle At Auburn Shopping Center

Associated Press

Maybe its performance hasn’t matched the pre-opening hype, but after a year in business the SuperMall of the Great Northwest is doing fine, its developers say.

Since its grand opening a year ago Saturday, 14 million shoppers have visited the huge shopping complex in this south King County city. Among them, they have spent an estimated $250 million to $350 million.

City officials, while praising the mall as a catalyst for other developments, say it hasn’t generated the kind of money they were led to expect. And some of the owners of the mall’s 175 stores say they had hoped to do better.

But Jeffrey Oliphant, president of the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hapsmith Development Corp., which built the mall, says he is more than satisfied.

“We had estimated we’d draw 12 or 13 million people. And we drew approximately 14 million people our first year; that’s phenomenal,” Oliphant said.

“Sales were a little bit higher than we anticipated for our first year. We should be close to $300 a foot - between $250 and $300 a square foot,” he said.

The mall is about 1 million square feet, which would make sales of $250 million to $300 million for the year.

The SuperMall had 160 stores when it opened. Now, with 175 stores, there is little room left for new stores without expansion.

“We only have about 50,000 square feet of space available to lease, about 5 percent of the total space,” Oliphant said. “Then we have the parcels out front which need to be completed and we move on to Phase II.” Auburn Mayor Charles Booth said the mall hasn’t brought the city as much money as expected.

“The most enthusiastic and aggressive projections of the builder - $2 million, $3 million or $4 million to the city - haven’t been met,” Booth said.

The city has received more than $1.2 million in taxes from the mall, city Finance Director Diane Supler said. Booth is confident that will increase.

Oshman’s SuperSports USA, one of the mall’s major tenants, says its sales have been beyond its expectations. Bed, Bath & Beyond, another of the mall’s anchor tenants, likewise says sales have been good.

But it has been another story at Incredible Universe.

“It’s been struggling more than we’d like it to,” said Henry Chiarelli, vice president and general manager of Tandy Corp’s Incredible Universe Division.

Incredible Universe responded by turning its computer department into a Computer City, a store within a store. Computer City also is a division of Tandy.

Video Button Express owner Kefyalew Teshome said his sales haven’t been bad. “But it’s not really as much as I expected,” he said.

Shanelle Allen, Teshome’s assistant, said high prices in some stores cause problems for the smaller vendors.

“This is supposed to be a discount mall. But to keep it going, I guess they had to put in some expensive stores. When I walk into a store and see a dress for $110, it isn’t a discount for me,” Allen said.

“Everyone’s definition of a bargain is different,” notes Lynn Beck, SuperMall’s director of marketing.

Oliphant said the mall has lost only one tenant, a stained glass shop.

Downtown Auburn merchants say they haven’t been hurt by the SuperMall.

“The SuperMall was kind of an unknown when it opened. But people were open to the idea that there could be new customers coming into the area. And it has brought more traffic to the area, people who otherwise might not have come to Auburn,” said Kristine Susee, executive director of the Auburn Downtown Association, which has 240 members.

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