PRESQUE ISLE – It has survived the closing of Loring Air Force Base, a trip to the auction block and rumors that it would one day be a potato house. With the 10th anniversary celebration of the Aroostook Centre Mall just a day away, mall general manager Patti Crooks said the shopping center has come a long way.
The manager said the mall still has managed to add new space, bring in new tenants and weather economic changes.
“It’s a different market 10 years later,” she said Thursday from her office.
The mall opened its doors in 1993, shortly before the federal government announced the closing of Loring Air Force Base.
“That’s like losing the population of a whole town,” Crooks said. “The mall took an incredible hit right away.”
But losing the U.S. Air Force wasn’t the mall’s only problem. In the mall’s first few years of business, Crooks said, changing people’s perception was a huge task.
Constructed by Widewaters Group of New York, the northern Maine mall was expected to serve an area where residents traveled two to three hours to shop at a mall.
“But getting people to say, ‘Hey, it’s in my back yard’ was quite an undertaking,” Crooks said. “We had people saying, ‘It’s just going to be a big potato house.'”
In June 2001, the Presque Isle mall was placed on the auction block. Brothers Eddie and Ralph Sitt of New York City bought the center for $10 million – less than half of its appraised value.
Two months later, the events of Sept. 11 devastated retailers across the country.
Still, the Aroostook Centre Mall has weathered the economic ups and downs.
At 525,000 square feet, the Aroostook Centre Mall is the third-largest enclosed mall in the state, Crooks said.
The mall, which records about $40 million a year in sales, is home to approximately 40 shops, an eight-screen cinema, food court and anchor stores Sears, Kmart and J.C. Penney. The fourth anchor store, Porteous, closed last week.
Two new stores, CardSmart and Toy World, are making their debuts in time for the Christmas shopping season, and Crooks said she may have a few more deals up her sleeve.
“Four national retailers are looking at this mall,” Crooks said. “The possibilities are really very exciting.”
It’s been a decade of growth and change for the shopping center, but Crooks and mall tenants such as Linda Senechal, who co-owns Cozy Corner Collectibles, said they figured that’s what would happen.
“I had no doubt from the beginning that the mall would fly,” Senechal said Thursday. “I never thought it would be a potato house.”