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BUSINESS: A mall makeover: New stores, logo bring excitement to Bemidji shopping center

A shopper recently enters the Paul Bunyan Mall, which has seen increased traffic after a rebranding effort and the addition of Kohl's and Sephora inside JCPenney. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—The Paul Bunyan Mall has lately taken some giant steps forward, increasing the number of shoppers walking through its doors in the process.

Following a year in which Hobby Lobby opened on site, 2016 saw the shopping center add another national anchor tenant in Kohl's, while also welcoming in a new section to the JCPenney store called Sephora. Additionally, the mall launched a rebranding effort, including changing the carpet, adding new lighting and seating and repainting some areas.

"The property has positioned itself to not only better serve the local community, but serve as a true regional shopping center with a far greater reach than ever before," said Scot Snitker, national property manager for Lexington Realty International, which owns the mall. "In essence, what this means is that more people are coming to the Bemidji area. This not only helps the mall economy, but the local economy as well."

The new tenants in the mall's east wing mark the first time the area has been used since Kmart closed in 2012, leaving an unoccupied space of 96,100 square feet. With the once empty space now filled, with Hobby Lobby occupying 55,000 square-feet and Kohl's taking up roughly 35,000, the mall is seeing an uptick in shoppers across the board.

"Traffic is definitely up," said Mike Magnan, owner of the Dairy Queen in the mall. "It's certainly been busier lately, it's always a positive for all of the merchants here when new businesses open."

Even the logo at the shopping center has been updated, with the new look featured at the front doors of the mall.

"The new logo is actually very similar to the original one," Snitker said. "With the communities help, we added a modern touch and wanted to bring the mall back to its roots as a regional power center. We feel with the recent additions we have accomplished that and we aren't done yet."

For JCPenney, modernizing the store with the installation of a 2,200 square-foot cosmetic Sephora section, it's been an exciting time.

"We've seen a real pickup in activity in the mall. I'm excited about what Black Friday might look like," said Bemidji JCPenney General Manager Michael Beard. "The Sephora is doing way above expectations now, we're the smallest store in the company to have Sephora, too. Because of our success, they'll probably be expanding to other stores in the country."

According to Beard, customers have told JCPenney staff that they've started coming to the mall location now because of Sephora, rather than traveling out of town or ordering online.

Another boost for JCPenney, though, has been the other stores opening on the other end of the mall.

"Our weekend business has really increased. I think it gives customers another option, so I'm happy to see that side of the mall busy," Beard said. "It's like car dealerships, they like to be close to each other. Being in the same mall, we feed off each other and there's plenty of business for both. I welcome the activity to the mall."

"The atmosphere has been one of excitement," Snitker said. "We are very proud to be able to bring these types of retailers to the area along with the outstanding current retail base that already exists. It only further enhances the shopping experience."

Beard, who's worked in retail for 38 years at nine different shopping centers said the Paul Bunyan Mall is great for a city of Bemidji's size.

"They've really invested in it, it's got a lot going for it right now," Beard said.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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