EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The owner of the Shore Mall plans to demolish nearly 200,000 square feet of the shopping center in early 2013, retaining anchor stores such as Boscov’s and Burlington Coat Factory, a township official said Thursday.
A group of small merchants at the mall — who survived as others around them failed and left a sea of vacant spaces — were informed this week that they would not be part of the Shore Mall’s future.
Cedar Realty Trust, of Port Washington, N.Y., held a meeting with mall retailers Wednesday, announcing that the company wants to demolish most of the circa-1968 mall on the Black Horse Pike.
Representatives of Cedar Realty Trust did not respond to requests for comment.
The real estate investment firm would keep some of the anchor businesses and retain additional space for several smaller retailers and shops, including an existing state Motor Vehicle Commission office, Egg Harbor Township Administrator Peter Miller said.
“They’ve told us their plan is to demolish a portion of the building that’s about 200,000 square feet and to market it as vacant commercial land,” he said.
The company, which bought the mall and surrounding 75-acre property in 2006 for $36.5 million, is currently advertising retail opportunities on a sign by the road.
The plans differ from an earlier proposal, which had sought to reconfigure the surrounding roadway and proposed building new box-style stores for retailers, Miller said.
Miller said the company still needs to submit revised site plans and requires other township approvals.
The Shore Mall, which has about 40 tenants, is dotted with chain retailers such as Foot Locker but also includes some local small businesses and nonprofits.
Mall merchants and employees at the 44-year-old mall had seen the mall decline from its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.
The mall has had to struggle with a series of obstacles since then: Changing shopping habits among customers that no longer flocked to malls like they used to; the opening of the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing in 1987; a sour economy that crimped discretionary spending; and the physical decline of the mall itself.
“It’s sad. But look around. No one’s here,” said Steve Friedland of Absecon, who works at Celinas & Shylei Café in the food court, which also includes a pizzeria and a gyro eatery.
While competition arose around it - including The Walk in Atlantic City - the mall did little to make improvements as the building deteriorated, said Friedland, who has worked in the Shore Mall for 21 years.
“It’s a sad situation for a lot of business owners. It’s tough to start over, to find a new place, to get set up,” he said.
Doug Keefe, owner of Beachcomber Collectibles and a mall tenant since 1974, said he plans to move his business to another location. His lease runs out at the end of the year.
For Keefe, the announcement came as little surprise.
Cedar Realty Trust had previously been named Cedar Shopping Centers when it bought the property six years ago.
The firm had long called for “de-malling” the center, converting it into an open-air plaza rather than an enclosed-mall format.
The property at 6725 Black Horse Pike is assessed at about $29 million and had an annual tax bill last year of about $1.2 million, according to Egg Harbor Township property records.
Miller estimated the company could reduce its property assessment by almost 25 percent based on the demolition.
“It’s still speculation on our part because we haven’t seen anything concrete yet,” he said. “If they do remove that much space, then 25 percent of what they have there will no longer be there.”
John Hlis, senior vice president at Boscov’s, referred questions to Cedar Realty, but said the decision would have no effect on Boscov’s.
The mall was relatively quiet on Thursday at around 5:30 p.m. with little foot traffic. Some stores were already closed. Others were open, including a series of nonprofit organizations and consignment shops.
Friedland saw one customer in 15 minutes.
For the past eight years, Laurie and Stephen Rahter of Egg Harbor Township have used the Shore Mall mostly for exercise.
The married couple of 23 years like to do five laps inside the mall, which they said equals about a mile. There is rarely congestion as they walk, passing some shops with temporary banners rather than sturdy signage. They have seen the signs change often in recent years.
“We have wondered how many of these places have been able to hang in there as long as they have,” he said.
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