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- The Forecaster
BRUNSWICK — More retailers are leaving the shopping centers at Cook’s Corner, adding to a string of already vacant spaces in the once-bustling shopping area.
To help reclaim some lost clients, WS Development, the company that owns one of the area’s two plazas, is reaching out to the town and local groups in an effort to increase its visibility and connection with Brunswick.
Business at the Merry Meeting and Cook’s Corner plazas has lagged since the adjacent Brunswick Naval Air Station closed in 2011, and many retailers have left the area.
Lamey Wellehan Shoes, an Auburn-based chain, recently announced it is following the trend, moving out of the space it has leased at the Cook’s Corner Plaza for the last 30 years and relocating Topsham Fair Mall.
“We’ve been a fixture in Cook’s Corner,” company Operations Manager Don Stowell acknowledged.
Customer traffic was steady and the company was considering staying, but it had an opportunity for more space in Topsham and could not reach an agreement on a new lease with DDR Corp., the plaza owner.
Topsham also provides more space, which aligns with the company’s strategy to move into larger stores.
“This conversation has been going on for the past year,” Stowell said. “It wouldn’t have been a bad thing to stay, but when we had the opportunity for more space we took advantage of it.”
Reached this week, Steve Petrovski, the Cook’s Corner Plaza property manager, said he was not authorized to speak about the property. A call to a DDR representative was not returned.
On the heels of Lamey Wellehan’s announcement, Maine-based Day’s Jewelers revealed that it also plans a move to the Topsham shopping center from its location at Merrymeeting Plaza.
“It has been a great store for us, but when the base closed so did a lot of businesses,” said Jeff Corey, chairman of Day’s board of directors.
Even though sales were actually growing, the Brunswick location was not getting the foot traffic it had before the loss of big retailers like Borders bookstore and Old Navy, Corey said: it was retaining long-time customers, but wasn’t making many new ones.
“It’s just not the way it was,” Corey said. “We were feeling pretty lonely out there.”
The company’s research indicates that foot traffic in Topsham far outpaces the number of customers coming into Merrymeeting Plaza, he added.
Even though Day’s is deciding to leave a store it has occupied since 1993, Corey said he’s sure the center will rebound sometime in the future.
“But it was an opportunity for us and we had to make a decision,” Corey said. The company’s lease ends in January, when it plans to vacate the space.
Day’s decision to move leaves another hole in the strip mall, across Bath Road from the main entrance of the former Navy base, now Brunswick Landing.
Over the summer, clothing retailer Coldwater Creek shut its store, and more recently Famous Footwear shuttered its 7,100 square-foot location, squeezed between two large empty storefronts.
WS Development is actively seeking tenants to fill the vacancies, according to Ellyne Fleshner, a company spokeswoman.
“WS Development is talking to a lot of people about leasing the space and there is some interest shown,” Fleshner said. “We look forward to having new leases in place soon.”
Although there is more than 40,000 square feet of empty space in the plaza, the spaces can be reconfigured to fit smaller stores. The company is talking to big-box retailers and smaller potential clients, she added.
“They are open to talking to many different types of retailers that would benefit the center and the community,” Fleshner said.
In addition, WS has reached out to the town and other local stakeholders, like the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, Southern Midcoast Chamber of Commerce and the Brunswick Downtown Association, in an effort to increase its visibility and role in the community.
Linda Smith, the town’s development manager, coordinated a recent meeting between WS and the other entities to discuss the company’s plans for filling its vacant spaces and to see where the groups’ interests and resources coincide.
Keeping open lines of communication is an important first step to finding ways to help support growth at Cook’s Corner, Smith added.
“There are some things that a municipality can’t do anything about, it’s just the reality of the market,” Smith said. “But there may be things we can do to help.”