Two businesses that were impacted by the downtown Alexandria fire on Feb. 25 found new, temporary space at the Viking Plaza mall.

One of the best parts about it: It’s rent free.

The Scandinavian Gift Shop and Raapers Eatery and Ale, which is now focusing on its catering business, both took up the mall’s offer to use some of its space with no payments for up to a year and no lease commitments or obligations after that.

“We were glad to be able to offer what help we could,” said Scot Snitker, managing partner of Viking Plaza. “We are still open to anyone looking for assistance. We even have smaller displays that businesses could use to advertise their goods.”

For the Scandinavian Gift Shop, the mall’s offer worked like a charm, according to owners Heidi Bergerson and Sandy Sheets.

“It really worked well for us to go to the mall,” Bergerson said. “It made things so much easier for us and the mall has been awesome!”

Bergerson and Sheets closed the smoke-damaged store at 604 Broadway on March 10 to clean their entire inventory, along with the ceiling, walls and floors. They started packing up the store on March 16, and with help from ServPro's cleaning services, started moving inventory to the mall the next day.

“Time feels like it is standing still,” said Bergerson, who added that everything is going well.

Instead of cleaning the carpet at the downtown store, they decided to replace the flooring.

“Our carpeting wasn't going to last probably more than another year and it is a huge job for us to replace flooring because of what kind of inventory we have,” Bergerson said. “It was a perfect time for the flooring to be updated.”

The shop moved its inventory into the former Glenwear space at the mall. It's not selling any items there but customers can still place orders online at scandinaviangifts.com.

The Scandinavian Gift Shop’s time at the mall won’t be long. They plan to start bringing inventory back to the downtown store this week.

“I would love to say we’ll have all the inventory moved back by next Monday,” Bergerson said. “However, in these uncertain times, we are taking it one day at a time.”

In the meantime, Bergerson and Sheets said they’ve appreciated all the support they have received while their store recovers from the fire.

“We would just love to thank this amazing community, Viking Plaza Mall and ServPro,” Bergerson said. “We have been so fortunate to have such caring people to work with!”

Raapers Eatery and Ale owners Andy and Cammie Rassat, described the mall’s offer as a blessing and they were looking forward to moving the catering part of their business to the Pretzelmaker space at the mall.

But then the full weight of the coronavirus outbreak – including the recommendation to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people – changed everything.

All of their catering events in March and April were cancelled or postponed. They were able to hold on to a few events – three bridal gatherings at the end of May and the Zion Lutheran Gala fundraiser that was rescheduled for June. Two other events in May were moved to October and November.

“It looks like we won’t have any catering events until summer or deep into the fall,” Cammie said.

The Rassats said the need for the coronavirus restrictions outweigh the losses their catering business will incur. “It’s better to wait and keep people healthy,” Cammie said.

The coronavirus has also slowed the investigation into the downtown fire and the insurance settlements because it requires a gathering of more than 10 people to meet at the site, Cammie said.

Still, the Rassats aren’t bitter about absorbing the double-punch of a fire followed by a pandemic.

“We’re right here at home enjoying time with our kids and waiting to see what God has planned for us,” Cammie said.

For more information about the mall’s offer of providing free rent to fire-damaged businesses, contact Snitker at Scot@lexingtonco.com or 320-491-1387.

Mall issues challenge

Looking ahead to the future, when restaurants and other businesses fully reopen, Viking Plaza management is throwing out a challenge to the community.

“Once this pandemic has subsided and we have a sense of normalcy, we would like to challenge all consumers to keep their dollars local for the first week,” Snitker said. “Flood our stores, restaurants, downtown, grocers, etc. Stay off-line for the week and help give a bump to the local economy. This is something we should all get behind and support.”

Snitker added that studies have shown that for every dollar spent locally, 60 cents stays local.

“So staff off-line and stay local,” he said.