People going to the Viking Plaza Mall may find themselves lingering a bit longer these days.
New improvements are encouraging shoppers to stay awhile:
Comfortable chairs, couches, love seats and coffee tables have been placed in 10 locations throughout the mall.
Free WiFi access is now available from anywhere in the mall.
A children's soft play area was added. Kids can burn off energy climbing on play trucks. There's no need to worry about scraped knees - the enclosed area is covered with thick, soft carpeting. There are also four video screens showing cartoons and kid-friendly movies, along with seating areas for parents to watch their children.
Other kid friendly additions include an arcade area and outside kiddy rides.
A new entrance was added off South Broadway near JC Penney, along with new signs and lighting, designed to make a more attractive and convenient entry point.
Three and a half acres of land between the mall and South Broadway was cleared of trees, making the mall much more visible from that direction.
There are also new stores to visit: Famous Footwear is planning a soft opening this month; Northern Lights Art opened in the space once occupied by Bradley's Shoes; and Jo-Ann's Fabrics and Crafts is moving into the former Thrifty White spot.
Other stores in the mall have upgraded their look with remodeling projects, including Maurices and Tradehome Shoes.
Shoppers are noticing the mall's new-and-improved look, according to managers Ann and Bruce Butler.
"We can safely say that visits at the mall have increased tremendously," said Ann Butler. "People are lingering too and that's good."
It's also what the new management of the Viking Plaza Mall, Lexington Realty International, envisioned. The company took over management of the mall in January of 2009.
Representatives from New Jersey-based Lexington, Alan Retkinski, president, and Ira Einhorn, leasing executive, recently visited the mall to look over the improvements, along with Alex Schleider, one of the owners of the mall.
"We want to make the mall a family destination," said Schleider, "a place where people can sit and relax while their spouse goes shopping."
While planning the improvements, the mall focused on protecting the environment while enhancing the atmosphere and ambience of the shopping experience, Retkinski said.
"We're taking another step forward to create tomorrow's mall," Retkinski said.
Many of the ideas to upgrade the mall came from local shoppers, said the Lexington representatives. Just as Schleider, Retkinski and Einhorn were discussing that point with the newspaper, a shopper approached and asked if they were the owners.
"I just want you to know how much I appreciate the new seating you have here," he said, shaking their hands.
Lexington has invested about $1.2 million in the recent improvements.
They hired local companies to do the work and partnered with local businesses on the mall's new look.
The furniture, for instance, was provided by Douglas Furniture, and the playland is sponsored by Ellingson Plumbing and Heating.
Lexington sees a bright future for the mall. Einhorn said he expects the mall to be 100 percent occupied within six or seven months.
"We're getting new stores in and relocating some other stores that will meet both male and female shopping trends," Einhorn said.
"Since all the improvements started taking place, many stores have reported increased sales," said Schleider.
More improvements are in the planning stages. Benches may be placed outside near a pond to create a restful spot to have lunch or enjoy the weather.
Electronic readerboards may be added to the new, streamlined signage on South Broadway and Highway 29 to let people know about big events that are taking place.
A future expansion is also possible. By relocating a pond, the mall created an additional 40,000 square feet of buildable space - an ideal spot for a national retailer to move into, Retkinski said, adding that talks are taking place with a number of potential businesses.
Meanwhile, shoppers, customers and walkers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas about the mall with management.
According to the Lexington representatives, the goal is to make the mall not just a concrete box to shop in but a place to relax, visit often - and linger.