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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

October Openings Planned At Plaza

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A view of construction at one corner of the former K-mart store building. Stores may be doing business at the site in October.
North Adams - Grand openings could be underway before Halloween.

Renovation and construction work at the downtown former K-Mart plaza is moving forward, and property owner First Hartford Realty Corp. President Neil Ellis predicted an October opening of several new businesses at the former K-mart store building.

Kim Bell, marketing manager for Stage Stores, the parent company of Peebles department store, Cinema North Vice-president Kipp Mullins and Thom Meschinelli of the Olympia Sports company's human resources department confirmed that the three enterprises are anticipating October openings at the property.

Peebles

Peebles stores often plan very grand openings, said Bell during a July 11 afternoon interview. Bell was contacted at the firm's Houston, Texas corporate offices.

"[The] North Adams store was planned for quite some time and we are looking at an October opening," she said.

Peebles openings may cover a four-day span and usually offer a generous number customer gifts, "rewards cards," and other special promotions, she said.

The company is very excited about what the store will bring to Northern Berkshire shoppers, Bell said.

"Our niche is bringing name-brand apparel to small town America. We have women's and men's clothing, missy styles, and a great children's section."

The store also offers junior sizes as well as a selection of young mens' wear, and items such as fragrances, she noted.

"It's affordable and we pride ourselves on our customer service," she said. "We are a part of the community."

Clothing brands including Liz Claiborne, Izod, Van Heusen, and other recognizable labels are part of the Peebles inventory. The company issues its' own credit card and offers those age 50 and over a store "Club 50" membership, Bell said.

Cinema Construction Entering "Second Gear"

Cinema officials are hoping that the theater is operating in time to offer holiday season new release movies, said Mullins.

"We hope to be open by Thanksgiving at the absolute latest," said Mullins.

An eight-screen movie theater with stadium seating is being constructed within the building. Mullins put the seating capacity at "less than 1,100." Aisles are being built wider than has been the custom, and patron comfort is a priority, Mullins said.

"The old adage [for movie theaters] was to get as many seats in as you can. Now we are more focused on audience comfort."

Theater construction is progressing and Mullins said that construction efforts will be intensified and pushed into "second gear" within the next two or three weeks.

The work needed to create the stadium seating is extensive, Mullins noted. He added that a mezzanine has been erected. More work has been completed than may be obvious to passersby and observers, he noted.

"This isn't cookie-cutter construction. There are the walls [to be erected] and there are sound issues. The stadium seating requires quite a bit of work."

New Building Codes Add Time And Money To Project

Many local residents are keeping an eye on the project, said city Mayor John Barrett III.

"People are anxious to see this completed and I hope that things will go into second gear quickly," Barrett said during a July 11 interview.

Contractors are adhering to a slew of new building codes generated since a catastrophic Rhode Island nightclub fire and other situations; those new regulations add both time and money to the project, Barrett said.

Barrett emphasized that the project will benefit from construction that is done carefully and correctly.

"It's better to do it slowly and do it right," Barrett said."We want it done right."

Olympia

Meschinelli said that opening an Olympia store in the city "fits into our market plans."

The store's focus is selling sporting goods to young adults, Meschinelli said. The company is celebrating its' 31st year in business and is experiencing solid growth throughout the Northeast, he said.

The company generates about $186 million in annual revenue and is opening new sites at a rate of 15 to 20 yearly, Meschinelli noted.

"We continue to grow and we're heading to 200 stores. Depending on the actual timing, the [North Adams] store could the 152nd store. It's really quite a story for something that began in Portland, Maine, 31 years ago."

A new store will likely employee 10 to 12 individuals, Meschinelli said. The company's corporate offices and distribution center are located in Westbrook, Maine.

A Staples store is expected to occupy space at the renovated building, Ellis said.

No Restaurant Yet

As of July 11, there were no restaurants in place for an L-shaped plaza venue that faces Main Street and American Legion Drive or an available space at the former K-mart building, Ellis said.

"We have no restaurant yet," Ellis said. "I wish we did."

Barrett said that he is hopeful that a space once used by K-mart as a garden center can be successfully marketed as a restaurant site.

Ellis said that exterior renovation work at the L-shaped mall, which is occupied by a several retail venues, a video rental outlet, a rent-to-own firm and a pizza restaurant is scheduled to begin within the next two to three weeks. The renovations are expected to begin at a Fashion Bug store.

Many of the retailers whose shops have American Legion Drive-facing entrances have kept those doors closed to the public and that is about to change, Barrett said.

"They are going to have to open those doors," he said.

Many shop owners kept the doors locked for various reasons, including as a way to combat shoplifting. Business owners will have to consider different security measures, Barrett said.

Additional site work includes plans for parking lot improvements and landscaping, Barrett said.

"It's important that the parking lot is cleaned up and things are done to make [the property] pleasing to the eye," Barrett said. "Obviously, this project will be a big boost to the city. It will be great to see activity generated over there."

The presence of respected retailers such as Peebles, Staples and Olympia combined with a quality, multi-screen cinema is likely to prove a strong downtown lure, Mullins said.

"These stores will do well there," Mullins said. "I believe this will benefit the city."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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