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Making the mall a destination: Paul Bunyan Mall officials expect Kohl’s addition, rebranding to drive up traffic

Alan Retkinski, Lexington Realty International President, discusses the growth of the Paul Bunyan Mall at a press conference Tuesday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 4
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BEMIDJI -- Lexington Realty International, the company that owns the Paul Bunyan Mall, expects more shoppers to start visiting the facility as growth and rebranding take place simultaneously.

At a press conference Tuesday to discuss the opening of the mall's new tenant Kohl's, Lexington Realty International President Alan Retkinski said 30 percent of retail sales have gone to the Internet, while 70 percent is still done in malls.

Because of that statistic, Retkinski spoke about the importance of capitalizing that 70 percent at the Paul Bunyan Mall and making it a destination for shoppers.

The latest step in making the mall a destination is the new Kohl's store, scheduled to open in September. Roughly 35,000 square feet, the new department store will be located side by side with the mall's Hobby Lobby and combined, the two shops fit in the 96,100 square feet of space that had once been Kmart.

Mike Magnan, owner of the Dairy Queen at the Paul Bunyan Mall, said he's expecting a 10-30 percent increase in business because of the new retailer.

"It's going to be great to have the added traffic in the mall," Magnan said. "It should bring back the days of traffic from when Kmart was still here."

Along with the new Kohl's moving in, Retkinski also touted the efforts taken by the J.C. Penney at the mall to compete with the new store.

Last week, the Bemidji J.C. Penney announced it would be adding a 2,200 square foot Sephora section, as well as a Disney shop and an area with an emphasis on women's accessories.

Coinciding with Kohl's moving in and J.C. Penney upgrading is a rebranding effort to help put Paul Bunyan Mall on the map. So far the effort has included changing the carpet, adding new lighting, new seating, repainting areas and relocating the play area.

The next move for the mall, Retkinski said, is to have a new logo. As part of the process, the mall's staff is leaving the new logo up to the guests, allowing them to select their favorite from six options.

Sign of economic strength

Dave Hengel, executive director of the economic development group Greater Bemidji, said Kohl's moving in -- along with the mall's other efforts -- are indicators of Bemidji's strength as a regional center for north central Minnesota.

"When another large retailer comes to town, it's another sign of the strength of the economy and of the future growth in the region," Hengel said.

Additionally, Hengel said Kohl's opening the door to more competition for businesses is a positive sign, too.

"Companies tend to up the ante and continue to pressure each other to get better and stronger," Hengel said. "Beyond that, in the case of Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Herberger's, I think it draws more people in. So it's not just about changing how the pie is divided, it's increasing the pie size, too."

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