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Marino Eccher , Published August 03 2010

New tenants lighting up Moorhead Center Mall

A handful of storefronts are still vacant, the corridors are still quiet, and the foot traffic at the Moorhead Center Mall isn’t quite elbow-to-elbow yet.

But with four new tenants opening their doors in August, the once-troubled shopping center is showing signs of life.

Jeremy Horst, leasing director for the mall, says you can call it a comeback.

“We’re really taking the right steps,” he said. “My goal is to get every light on in the shopping center.”

A year ago, two out of every five storefronts in the mall were dark – a total of 18 empty sites. Just 70 percent of the mall’s square footage was occupied. Mired in the recession, retailers were closing stores, not opening them.

Horst took over as leasing director eight months ago and set out to reverse the exodus. His push landed three new lessees that will open this month: computer repair shop Raptor PCS, fashion retailer Glik’s, and Furniture For Less, which opened Aug. 1.

A fourth newcomer, Thai Orchid, bought a space in the mall formerly occupied by Country Kitchen. The restaurant will move from its current First Avenue location on Sept. 1.

Horst said the new additions bring the mall to 90 percent capacity. Six stores remain vacant. He said he’s in talks with a number of local and national retailers to fill out the space but declined to identify targets.

Darrelle Hansen, president and co-owner of Furniture For Less, said the mall was “very aggressive” in persuading the West Fargo store to open a Moorhead location.

“They consider us a destination-type store,” Hansen said.

To make room for the furniture store’s 30,000-square foot showroom, the mall gutted five vacant sites and relocated clothing and gift shop The Classic across the hall.

The remodeling was both extensive and expensive: Horst said the mall’s owners spent about $500,000 revamping the interior. He said most of that money went into the Furniture For Less site,

David Scheer, co-owner of Thai Orchid, said the mall offered a better location than the restaurant’s current home, the aging former Hardee’s building.

It didn’t hurt that the price was right: Scheer bought the 100,000-square-foot space three months ago for $275,000, far less than what the previous owner paid for it.

With the mall’s resurgence, he said, “you ­wouldn’t get that deal today.”

Scheer said Thai Orchid serves about 200 people a day – enough to provide a bit more hustle and bustle for the mall.

“Will they walk around and shop? I don’t know,” he said. “But at least some of them are walking through.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502