On one side of County Road 19 in Albertville is a thriving shopping strip called the Plaza. On the other side of the street is the Promenade, where an entire row of stores sits nearly empty in the half-full development.
The two together make up Albertville Premium Outlets.
Several tenants on the Promenade side have voiced concerns and are not satisfied with mall owner Simon Property Group's response. Simon, they said, also encouraged them to move to the Plaza strip, which has higher rents.
Simon, while not answering specific questions, said in a statement it was "confident" about future plans for the space.
The center, experts said, is facing what many regional malls are: competition from other centers at a time of great disruption in the retail sector.
In the past five years, nearly 20 stores have closed or moved to the busier Plaza side of the outlet center. With the moves and closures, the Promenade now has a few national anchors such as Calvin Klein riding it out with a smattering of locally owned independent stores.
Direct Tools, Lids, Zumiez and Lindt chocolates are located near hollow spaces once occupied by Fragrance Outlet, Converse, Clarks and Lululemon, which moved across County Road 19. Stores such as Fossil, Samsonite, Aerosoles and Yankee Candle have closed.
Some of Albertville's former retailers such as Kenneth Cole, BCBG and Nine West have closed stores nationwide.
"Albertville mall still does fairly good sales, but they've hit their occupancy peak," said Dick Grones of Cambridge Commercial Realty in Edina.
He said the Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan, which opened four years ago, also has played a big role in Albertville's decline.
Retail analyst Dave Brennan, professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas Institute for Retailing Excellence, thinks that most Twin Cities shoppers find the Eagan mall more centrally located and easier to shop.
"It helps that the Eagan mall has twice as many residents nearby as the Albertville location does," he said.
Simon said "various conversations" are happening regarding the Promenade annex.
"We're confident in future plans for the space. At this time, there are unfortunately no additional updates," Simon said in a statement. A spokesman for the mall's owner said it would not respond to specific concerns mentioned by current and former tenants.
Jessica Persons, who owned Flying Circus Toys for five years until she closed it in February, said she left the Promenade despite having strong revenue.
"It became so frustrating to work with mall management," she said. "It shouldn't have to be an argument to turn on mall walkway lights at 6 p.m. or get sidewalks shoveled before the store opens. There was too much negligence."
Persons said when she complained to mall management, she was asked if she wanted to move to the Plaza side of the mall instead. "My rent would have doubled or tripled over there," she said.
Tom Crassweller, co-owner of the Peak, a Finnish outerwear and sportswear store in the Promenade near Ann Taylor, also has been approached to move into one of two vacant spots in the main Plaza.
"We'd lose some of our small, independent identity to be between Nike and Under Armour and have to pay a lot more in rent," he said.
Tenants in the Promenade have been asking representatives from Simon Property Group what's being done to stop the desertion, but Crassweller said after years of being put off, he has quit asking.
Some tenants speculated that Simon may want to repurpose or sell the Promenade space to other interests, possibly something to do with the Mall of Entertainment planned near the outlet mall. Originally proposed in 2015, the project would include an indoor theme park branded by Sony and National Geographic, a water park, 300 hotel rooms and additional housing units.
Ground has yet to be broken for the project, which originally was going to be built in time for the Super Bowl held in Minneapolis last February. One local partner, International Creative Capital, has pulled out. Another partner, Casey Darkenwald of Darkenwald Holdings Ltd. in Elk River, said in an e-mail: "Our group is not involved with Simon. Our development is still being worked on."
Joanne Eveslage of St. Cloud shopped the Promenade side of the Albertville mall last week for the first time in years. "I usually only shop the other [Plaza] side, but I'm meeting someone here," she said. "Many of the shops are hidden and you can't see them from the parking lot."
Nearly all of the Promenade shops that have closed or moved cannot be seen from the parking lot. That's why small business owner Angela Anderson recently rented one of the rare vacant spots close to the parking lot. On Nov. 20 she opened Mary's Roses, a store with a line of all-natural skin care products made by Anderson.
"I'm just a little startup business, but the Simon people told me they want more small businesses to come in," she said.
Until they do, the Promenade offers small independents such as Mary's Roses, the Peak, Tin's Tailor and Pebble Boutique, in addition to national anchors such as Loft Outlet, New York & Co. and Children's Place.
Most of the remaining independent tenants say they are attracting steady business despite the closures.
"We've become a destination spot now for loyal, repeat customers, but I wish we had more company around us," Crassweller said.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633