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Viking Plaza sports new look

Dunham's Sports is moving into a 28,000-square-foot space at the Viking Plaza Mall in Alexandria. A mid-May opening is planned.

Big things are once again happening at the Viking Plaza Mall in Alexandria.

Dunham's Sports is planning to open a 28,000-square-foot store in mid-May.

Based near Detroit, Michigan, the company is one of the largest full-line sporting goods chains in the U.S., serving customers in 12 states.

It offers national brand name sporting goods, athletic equipment, active sports gear and leisure apparel.

According to the Lexington Realty International, the New Jersey-based company that manages the mall, Dunham's Sports will cater to what the local community wants, whether it's an added emphasis on hockey, football or other sports.

The company also pledged to limit its competition with existing mall stores that offer athletic gear, according to Lexington President Alan Retkinski.

"They're very in-tune to the community and the other retailers at the mall," he said.

Dunham's is moving into the southeast portion of the mall formerly occupied by Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hallmark, Alex Hearing, Pet Center and the corridor that separated the hallway. Hallmark has relocated to an expanded space in the mall's center court that once housed Bradley Shoes and Trend Setters.

Those aren't the only changes that have happened or are about to happen at the mall. Here are some other highlights:

• Lease agreements with two new retailers are in the process of being signed. Details will be announced within the next 30 days.

• Sports Minded has moved to a two-story space that will give it 1,000 square feet.

• The Pet Center has relocated to the northwest corner of the mall (where All State Satellite was).

• Jacob's Lefse Bakeri and Gifts has opened a permanent new kiosk.

• Alex Hearing moved to a new space across from the mall office.

• Jo-Ann Fabrics and Craft Store opened last fall in a space (the old Thrifty White) that doubled its square footage to 18,000 square feet.

• Famous Footwear opened a new store last March.

• Several stores updated their look with remodeling projects, including Maurices and Tradehome Shoes.

• Several upgrades were made inside and out - comfortable new furniture, a creative playscape for children, a new entrance off South Broadway, new signs and free Wi-Fi access for shoppers. A new outdoor picnic area will be finished this spring,

• When the new entrance was built, a pond was relocated to create a 40,000 square-foot space, which the mall hopes to lease to a large national retailer in the near future.

After all the new stores are open, including the two pending ones, and the relocations are complete, the mall will only have two small spaces available. Everything else will be occupied.

"For the first time, we had to turn down a tenant who was looking for 2,000 square feet," said Ira Einhorn, Lexington Realty leasing executive for Viking Plaza. "There just wasn't enough space available."

The strategy is paying off business-wise. Sales are going well at many stores, according to Bruce Butler and Ann Butler, the local managers of the mall.

"They're trending significantly higher than projected," Bruce Butler said.

"It's been awesome for us," agreed Nancy Knox, store manager at Jo-Ann Fabrics. "A lot of people didn't even know we were in the mall before and now there's a steady flow of people in the store."

Jo-Ann Fabrics not only has more customers - it also has more employees. It increased its staff from 12 to 22 employees, said Knox.

Lexington Realty's ongoing goal is to make the Viking Plaza "tomorrow's mall," said Retkinski, and "we're rapidly seeing today becoming yesterday's tomorrow."

"We want to turn the mall into a destination," said Retkinski. "With all the improvements we've made in the past year, it should be known as the 'new' Viking Plaza Mall."

To celebrate all the improvements, a "grand re-opening" is being planned to take place around Memorial Day, Retkinski added.

Throughout the transformation, the goal was - and still is - to hire local companies to do the work, noted Alex Schleider, one of the owners of the mall with Viking Plaza Realty Group LLC.

"The contractors, the plumbers, the roofers - we kept all the work in-house to give back to the community," he said.

Local companies included Ellingson Plumbing and Heating, Kleven Construction and Ringdahl Architects.

Schleider, Retkinski and Einhorn credited the local managers of the mall, Bruce Butler and Ann Butler, for helping guide Viking Plaza through the improvements.

"They are committed to making the mall the best it can be - to drive traffic and increase sales," said Retkinski.

Schleider added that Viking Plaza Realty Group felt that Lexington management did an "awesome job" of leasing up space and managing the mall as well.

The city of Alexandria was also easy to work with throughout the construction process, Retkinski and Einhorn said. They said the electrical inspectors and Alexandria Fire Marshal Dennis Stark were a "pleasure to work with."

The investors in the mall are so satisfied with the Viking Plaza's transformation that they're looking at investment opportunities in other parts of the state as well, according to Schleider.

"We've come to understand the term 'Minnesota Nice,' " said Schleider.

Your ideas count

The owners of the mall, Viking Plaza Realty Group, LLC, encourages local shoppers, walkers, store staff and the community to provide suggestions, input and constructive criticism. "I personally visit the mall a minimum of every five or six weeks but the local people on the ground who frequent the mall are our eyes and ears," said Alex Schleider, mall owner. "We have implemented many changes as a result of their comments as this is their mall." To offer suggestions, visit the website,, go to the mall management office or use the suggestion box located in the center court.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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