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Belk staying put, other mall tenants mum

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A spokesman for Belk said his company is committed to remaining a tenant at Southgate Mall -- even after Southgate is no longer a mall. The Vireo Group, the mall's new owner, is moving forward with a plan to "demall" Southgate and convert it into a traditional shopping center.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Southgate Mall’s largest tenant plans to stay put even as the mall’s new owners begin “demalling” Southgate and converting it into a more traditional shopping center. 

A spokesman for Belk said last week the Charlotte-based retailer has no plans to move its Elizabeth City store, which it spent $1.8 million renovating in 2013. 

"We have met with the owners of Southgate Mall – and we are very pleased with their plans to improve this center," spokesman Andy Izquierdo said. “We’re continuing to operate the store with no plans to close – so it is business as usual."

Other retailers at the mall either said they couldn’t comment right now on how the Vireo Group’s plans for Southgate would affect them, declined to comment or couldn’t be reached. 

John Saslow, president of Saslow's Jewelers, said in an email that he couldn’t comment on how demalling Southgate would affect his store until after his negotiations with the Vireo Group are complete. He did say, however, that he believes Southgate Mall "is going to be good" once Vireo completes its plans.

Vireo, which is based in Augusta, Georgia, acquired Southgate Mall in February in an online auction for an estimated $2.3 million.

Clay Boardman III, a Vireo managing member and spokesman for the company, said last month his company will demolish both the former Kangaroo convenience store and former J.C. Penney retail store as part of its plan to transform Southgate into an open shopping center.

Boardman said last week Vireo has a contract to begin demolition of the former Kangaroo and is close to selecting a contractor to tear down the former J.C. Penney as well. Vireo plans to construct a new west side wall once the J.C. Penney site is demolished.   

Boardman declined to discuss specifics about the mall’s tenants, citing his company’s ongoing negotiations.

It was unclear how Vireo’s plans will affect other mall tenants.

Jeff Gray, vice president of real estate for Hibbett Sporting Goods, said his company is “monitoring the situation in Elizabeth City” but would have no further comment right now.

Repeated attempts last week to reach a representative of Southgate’s second-largest tenant, Burkes Outlet, were unsuccessful. No one from the Shoe Dept., another prominent tenant, could be reached by phone either.

A marketing firm representing another prominent tenant, GNC health and nutrition products, said in an email their client was unavailable for comment.

The owner of the Dragon Buffet restaurant also did not respond to a request for comment left with employees.

One tenant who did discuss his plans was Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese emigré who operates Angel's Nails, a nail polishing business.

Nguyen said he has not met Boardman, but he has heard about Vireo’s plans to tear down part of Southgate and convert the mall into a shopping center.

"They've got to do what they've got to do," he said.

Nguyen, who says he’s been in the same location at Southgate for four years, said he remains upbeat about the changes Vireo is bringing.

"So far, so good," he said.

Regardless of what happens, Nguyen believes he’ll have a strategic advantage in the new shopping center. Angel’s Nails is near a south-side entrance to the mall, meaning its clients have quick access from the parking lot.

As for his future at Southgate Mall, Nguyen says he hopes to have one.

"As long as they don't kick me out, I'm staying," he said.

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