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Store to close at Upper Valley Mall in Clark County

American Eagle Outfitters will close its retail store at the Upper Valley Mall in Springfield at the end of this month, the latest closure since the property was sold in an online auction.

One year ago this month, the mall was hit with two major setbacks when both J.C. Penney and Macy’s announced on back-to-back days they would close their anchor stores at the mall in 2015.

Kay Jewelers also just closed its store at the Upper Valley Mall to move to a new location inside the Bechtle Crossing Shopping Center at 1654 N. Bechtle Ave.

Mall officials declined to comment this week about the closings.

American Eagle is a national retail brand with more than 1,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. The location at the Upper Valley Mall is scheduled to close Jan. 24 but company officials declined to provide further details, including how many employees will be affected by the store’s closure.

The company also didn’t disclose whether any of its other stores will close or what led to the decision to close the Springfield location.

Some shoppers were disheartened to see more stores leaving the Upper Valley Mall, but said they still have optimism that new owners can make changes to draw more tenants to the decades-old shopping center.

Kassidy Karnehm and Brittany Sandrus said they used to shop at Upper Valley often but now mostly drive to the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek because there are more options in that area. But they said they’d prefer to shop in Springfield if there were more stores at the mall.

“It would be convenient not to have to make a 45-minute drive,” Sandrus said.

The region has seen significant changes in retail in the past several months, including a recent decision by Target to close its location at 1885 W. 1st St. Company officials have previously said that store, which employs slightly more than 100 workers, will close Jan. 30.

Despite the mall’s challenges, Springfield has seen interest in new investment by retailers as well. Hobby Lobby is spending about $2.1 million to build a new 55,000 square-foot location on North Bechtle Ave., and Dollar Tree is building a new location in one of the outlots in front of the Hobby Lobby development.

And local officials have said Rural King, with 86 stores in 10 states, may eventually fill the vacant space at the former Kmart location at 1476 Upper Valley Pike.

American Eagle announced in 2014 the retailer planned to cut about 150 of its stores over three years, although it’s not clear whether the Springfield location is part of those cuts. The Pittsburgh-based retailer’s shares plunged close to 17 percent last week after reporting fourth quarter sales that fell short of analyst estimates.

Despite those challenges, company leaders said it had a solid holiday season.

“I’m optimistic about our future plans, and across the organization we are diligently focused on driving continued momentum in 2016,” American Eagle CEO Jay Schottenstein said in a statement.

The mall’s recent challenges aren’t unique but Clark County seems to be at the forefront of several trends that are affecting retailers across the U.S. as more residents buy online and big box retailers increasingly struggle, said George Degenhart, planning and zoning director in German Twp.

“We are constantly hearing about retail downsizing across America,” he said. “We are at the epicenter of that occurring.”

Even though many retailers have left the region in the past two years, Degenhart said he believes there is still plenty of demand from area residents. Most of the stores that have left the area are national retailers that have struggled nationally, he said.

“It’s a whole lot bigger issue than the Upper Valley Mall,” Degenhart said.

The mall also has a new owner after New Upper Valley Associates LLC. purchased the site for about $2.5 million in an online auction. Rao Chekka, managing partner for the company, has previously said he bought the property because he believes it can succeed with the right mix of tenants.

The mall was once valued as high as $60 million but slipped into receivership after Simon Management Associates, its former owner, defaulted on a $47 million loan. Chekka has said it will take at least a couple years before the mall regains its financial footing.

Jan Schertz now lives in Columbus but grew up in the area and said she regularly visited the Clark County mall while growing up. It’s been tough seeing stores dwindle away, she said, but is hopefully the new owners can turn it around.

“Hopefully they can bring in new stores and boost sales,” she said.

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