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Published October 16 2010

Trade Talk: Forever 21 opening generates buzz

When it comes to new stores, there are openings, and then there are openings.

Mark the newest addition to West Acres Regional Shopping Center – Forever 21, the fashion retailer that makes teenage girls and twentysomething women weak at the knees – down for the latter.

For months, the buzz surrounding West Acres has centered on the store’s pending arrival.

“It’s kind of all we’ve been hearing about,” says Alissa Sorum, the mall’s marketing director. Then again, she says, “we heard that even before we confirmed they were coming.”

Sorum calls Forever 21 “the biggest store to open at West Acres since J.C. Penney,” which came to town in 1979. She means both figuratively – “it’s one of the hottest things going on right now in the country,” – and literally: At nearly 20,000 square feet, it’s the largest shop to move into the mall in three decades.

Forever 21 has 480 locations in the United States and Puerto Rico, but this is the first one in the Dakotas. Before the West Acres store opened this week, the closest location was in Minneapolis.

West Acres has actually been in discussion with Forever 21 for nearly a decade, broaching the subject in 2001. At the time, the company wanted about 6,000 square feet – about the size of an American Eagle. By the time negotiations got serious in 2009, it wanted three times that space. Luckily, the mall had it, consolidating three storefronts to make the deal work.

Fargo-Moorhead has never been shy about its love for national chains. Sonic Drive-In rumors and Buffalo Wild Wings expansions always stir up their share of chatter. But even by those standards, the enthusiasm for Forever 21 has been exceptional.

Sorum told me that the mall has been getting 20 to 30 inquiries a day about the store’s opening – a level of interest that “far surpasses anything we’ve received in the past” for a new store.

It’s also been getting plenty of traffic on the West Acres Facebook page, where the mall held a 21-day countdown to the opening, posting a new photo of the store in progress each day. Sorum says a social-media marketing campaign was a natural fit given the store’s target demographic.

The page currently has about 1,300 fans – Sorum says it’s added 100 in the past week alone – and is alight with excited posts from the store’s devotees (think exclamation points – and lots of them).

I fired off messages to a few of those fans to get a pulse on what the excitement is all about (I am not, after all, the target demographic, so I figured I could use a little help).

One Forever 21 admirer, Patty Fresonke of Audubon, Minn., told me that she first shopped at the store in Las Vegas last summer, and “fell in love with their stuff.” When she got back, the 21-year-old college student in Detroit Lakes, Minn., found out the store was coming to Fargo.

Since then, she told me, “I’ve been counting down the days!”

Count down no more, Patty – it’s here, and it’s big.

You can also connect with Trade Talk online at www.tradetalk.areavoices.com. Readers can reach Forum business reporter

Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502