Christopher and Banks will close its location at the Upper Valley Mall.

Store to close at Upper Valley Mall, move to Bechtle Avenue

A clothing retailer will close its location at the Upper Valley Mall and move to Bechtle Avenue, one of several retailers that have shifted toward the busy retail corridor in recent months.

Christopher and Banks will close its location at the mall next month and is expected to reopen this spring in the Bechtle Crossing shopping center in the former Lane Bryant store.

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Other chains, including Rue 21 and Kay Jewelers, have also left the mall to open locations on Bechtle Avenue. Christopher and Banks company officials didn’t return several calls seeking comment this week.

The store will be a good fit for Bechtle Avenue, said Donn Davids, vice president of leasing and development for the U.S. Properties Group, which manages the shopping center.

He stressed his company didn’t intend to poach a business from the Upper Valley Mall. Christopher and Banks approached his company through a third party, he said, to seek space in the shopping center.

“When Christopher and Banks goes in, I will have two vacancies and we’re working on those,” Davids said of the shopping center.

Mall officials directed questions to Christopher and Banks and said they’re already looking to fill the vacancy.

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“Christopher and Banks has been a popular retailer in the mall for many years,” said Brenda LaBonte, the mall’s general manager. “They have been an excellent tenant and we are sorry to see them go. While we are pursuing prospects, there is nothing definite to announce at this time.”

The mall has seen several national retailers close locations at a time when the industry is undergoing major upheaval.

J.C. Penney and Macy’s left in 2015, leaving major gaps the mall hasn’t filled. The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery also closed a location it had operated since 2013, citing declining foot traffic. Several smaller retailers, including Cardboard Heroes, American Eagle Outfitters and Lady Elizabeth Bridal and Tux all closed in 2016. Charley’s Grilled Subs also closed in the food court.

The mall has filled some vacancies, often with smaller, locally-owned businesses.

Rural King has opened a location across the street in German Twp. and Bargain Hunt, a discount retail chain based in LaVergne, Tenn., confirmed it plans to open a location in that corridor this year.

Local leaders are working to attract more stores to Upper Valley Pike and across Clark County, including hiring Buxton Co., a consulting firm to identify and attract retailers that would be a good fit. The Clark County Land Bank also purchased the shuttered Macy’s property at the mall to redevelop it.

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Retailers nationwide face challenges ranging from changing consumer habits to an uptick in online shopping and more competition from discount stores. Earlier this year, Macy’s announced it will close 68 stores nationally, including three in Ohio.

Clark County has a healthy retail market, local leaders said, but much of the interest has shifted toward Bechtle Avenue.

Davids noted even Bechtle Crossing has seen signs of a changing retail market as his firm has tried to fill the few vacancies in the shopping center.

“We have had leases on a couple of them but given the retail sales of the past year across the country, a couple retailers decided they just weren’t going to expand in 2017,” Davids said. “We’re working to make Springfield a little more stable than most but it continues to be a challenge across the country.”

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Bechtle Avenue has continued to see interest from businesses like Dick’s Sporting Goods, IHOP and Hobby Lobby, which have recently opened there. The challenge is to find new companies that otherwise aren’t available locally but would be a good fit, Davids said.

Bechtle Avenue has some advantages, he said, including its location.

“It’s closer to the population and that helps,” Davids said. “Beyond that, all the major players are lining up there. Shopping patterns are changing and malls aren’t as favored as they once were. It’s all about destination shopping, where people can pull up to the door and say, ‘I’m going to Kohl’s today,’ and that’s where they go,” Davids said.

Based in Minneapolis, Christopher and Banks began as Braun’s Fashions in 1956, according to its website. The chain opened its first stores under the Christopher and Banks banner in 2000 and now operates about 500 stores nationwide.

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Shoppers like Kim Chamberlin of Urbana said it’s been difficult watching the changes taking place at the Upper Valley Mall. She has fond memories of spending hours at the mall when it was packed with department stores and restaurants.

While she’d prefer to shop in person, she said it’s hard to find retailers who specialize in selling items like toys for her grandchildren. Now, she mostly shops for those items online.

She also prefers the mall’s location because it’s easier to park and get into several stores in a single location.

“It’s sad to see them move out of here because the choices get less and less all the time,” Chamberlin said.