By BROOK FLAGG
As Mervyns department stores nationwide liquidate inventories in preparation of closing in the next few weeks, some local merchants are expressing fear.
"It's obviously going to affect us. It will probably affect a lot of things in this complex," said Natalie Torres, manager of the toy store World Discoveries next door to the Mervyns at Tri-City Center in Redlands.
The 12-year-old business always enjoyed a steady flow of traffic thanks to its location adjacent to Mervyns. Many World Discoveries customers purchase gifts at the store, pay extra for wrapping services and take advantage of Mervyns shopping while they wait.
Mervyns, which has been in business for 59 years, has a dozen Inland Empire locations, including a distribution center in Ontario. Nationally, it is best known as a mid-level anchor for shopping malls and plazas, where occupants are typically an assortment of big-name brands and small businesses alike.
Locally, niche shops stand to lose business by way of their respective proximities to Mervyns stores.
In preparation, World Discoveries in Redlands has taken several measures, including increased advertising in newspapers and coupon mailers. The store has begun holding two or more sales each month, maintaining consumer interest by rotating the brands on discount, Torres said.
While she hopes for the best regarding the future of the Mervyns building, she observes that at the opposite end of the plaza, the space that housed Shoe Pavilion prior to its April closure remains empty. "I don't think there's been any interest in occupying it," she said.
The Tri-City property is one of several Mervyns stores acquired by Oakbrook, Ill.-based Inland Western Retail Real Estate Investment Trust Inc. in 2005, which "continues to market the Mervyns spaces and has received interest regarding both the sale and/or re-leasing of these locations," spokesman Matt Tramel said.
"We're very confident that there will be a suitable replacement very soon," said Jeffery Morton of Northridge-based A&O Properties, which manages the Tri-City Center. "We know of a couple brands, but we can't disclose that right now."
Other firms are looking for tenants for the impending vacancies at their Mervyns properties.
Retail-management corporation Macerich in Santa Monica owns the foundations occupied by 43 Mervyns locations, including sites in San Bernardino and Victorville. Mervyns, which still owns the leases on these structures, is actively pursuing retailers that may wish to occupy a footprint of that size, Macerich representative Anita Walker said.
"We work closely with Mervyns, and I can tell you that they're going through the process of looking at different brands," she said. "It's their decision who to sell to."
If Mervyns fails to sell the leases by the end of an undisclosed term, Macerich will retain the spaces, she said. While redeveloping the properties may be an option at that point, rapidly expanding companies such as Forever 21 or REI may be a good fit, provided that they help retain the traffic to which Mervyns' neighbors are accustomed, Walker said.
Other familiar names may be within the realm of possibility as well.
"I don't know if you remember when J.C. Penney left shopping centers," she said, "but now they may be looking to come back.
"There are really so many different things we can do."
Macerich also owns the Mervyns property adjacent to Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino. That store, which was recently renovated with plans to debut in October, remains empty and will not open under the Mervyns name.
The fate of the building is not expected to affect mall business, senior property manager Arun Parmar said.
In the West Valley, some of Mervyns' surrounding business owners harbor concerns of their own. At Terra Vista Town Center in Rancho Cucamonga, the store co-anchors the Foothill Boulevard and Haven Avenue division of the center alongside Target and Ross. While occupants such as Old Navy and Big 5 are not projected to be hurt during the interim period of the Mervyns closing, boutique shops sandwiched between the larger stores are preparing for a temporary lag.
Harry Guevreyan, a neighboring tenant who has designed, fabricated and sold custom jewelry for 17 years at Harry's Jewelry, said his business may be hurt by the absence of Mervyns until a new tenant is found. At his central location, he said, "Many of my customers walk from Mervyns to Ross and stop here in between."
As one of the center's veteran occupants, Guevreyan recalls making an easy comeback after the demise of Montgomery Ward.
"I really don't have anybody in my mind" as a replacement for the Rancho Cucamonga Mervyns, the jeweler said. "Anybody that brings foot traffic my way is good."
Fear of competition is far from his mind. Even though Mervyns had a jewelry section, he noted, "Very few people do the type of work I do."
Published: Monday, November 17, 2008