EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A group of merchants at the Shore Mall is trying to fight a proposal to demolish much of the 44-year-old building off the Black Horse Pike.
About 20 merchants met early Thursday morning, sitting on folding chairs behind the Big Dipper ice cream and yogurt shop, to discuss what they could do to make the enclosed mall more appealing to the mall owner and the public.
Ideas included trying to find more businesses potentially willing to relocate there, or even voluntarily paying higher monthly rents.
“This is their business, their livelihood. They want to stay here, to operate here. They’re willing to make sacrifices to not only stay here but to make this a viable place for people to come and shop,” said Wayne Nelson, of Absecon, owner of WWBC & Fitness in the mall.
In July, mall owner Cedar Realty Trust, of Port Washington, N.Y., told township officials and mall merchants that it wants to demolish about 200,000 square feet of the mall, retaining Boscov’s, Burlington Coat Factory and some smaller retail spaces.
Cedar Realty Trust, which bought the mall and surrounding 75-acre property in 2006 for $36.5 million, has not responded publicly to questions about its plans for the area.
Township Administrator Peter Miller has said the company told the township it wants to demolish a portion of the mall in 2013 and market it as vacant commercial land.
The proposal still requires site-plan and other approvals, and the company has not yet applied for demolition permits, township officials said.
In documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission in May, Cedar Realty, a real estate investment trust, said the company determined in 2011 to concentrate on grocery-anchored strip centers and dispose of its mall properties.
Even when it purchased the property in 2006, Cedar Realty — then known as Cedar Shopping Centers — had called for “de-malling” the center into an open-air plaza.
Nelson, 64, a retired Atlantic City police sergeant, said a poll of merchants and workers resulted in an estimate of nearly 300 employees who could be out of jobs if the proposal goes through.
“There’s a uniqueness this mall brings. Some things being done here can really make this a unique place in this enclosed setting than an open strip mall situation, and that’s to bring in viable merchants. We have a lot of empty spots that are not being filled,” he said.
Nelson said merchants are starting a petition drive they hope will gain attention from the mall owner, the public and legislators, who had previously intervened on behalf of Boscov’s.
Atlantic County had previously guaranteed $1 million of a $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan to help the Shore Mall Boscov’s stay in business and remain a large employer.
Jacob Muntazar, of Galloway Township, owner of the E-Inform kiosk that repairs computers and is a Comcast dealer, said mall merchants have even discussed voluntarily paying higher monthly rents to help support the mall.
But the mall would need another anchor where the old Value City department store had been located, he said.
Despite the mall’s problems and the soft economy, Muntazar and Nelson said they have managed to grow their businesses.
Nelson opened his gym in April 2011 with 11 members and is currently up to 329, he said. He has four employees.
Muntazar, who has had his business for about three years, has two employees.
“I don’t have any problems with business. Our business has been growing, and we do realize Cedar Realty has a big expense,” he said. “If they want, they can put elements in place to increase the business instead of bring it (the mall) down.”
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