By Rebecca Klopf
FREEPORT (WREX) - Just a few years ago Freeport's Lincoln Mall looked to be on the verge of shutting down, but a wave of new businesses changed that. Now it's one store away from being full.
Though nothing is final yet, a deal is in the works for a company to take over the old Menards store. But its a long way away from where Lincoln Mall was just four years ago.
"You know, we were really in rough shape," says Joan Welt, manager of Lincoln Mall.
"The mall at one time was a dying place," says shopper Doreen Rogers.
The Lincoln Mall saw some hard years and no one knows better than mall manager Joan Welt. At one point she says they faced a 90% vacancy. She slashed lease prices and gave out months of free rent and at times that didn't even work. But getting a known Freeport restaurant, Garden Deli, to move into the mall got the ball rolling.
"So by changing the outlook and started getting one person in, then the others will follow," says Welt.
Now there's a hair salon, used book store and senior center. Last month, the second to last open space was leased by a bridal shop.
"I looked at a lot of places in Freeport to decide where I wanted to go. This was by far the least expensive. And so being a start up business and not being a corporation or a big box store it really gave me a chance to get a start," says Alicia Leiser, owner of Once Upon a Dress.
But since 2008, when the old Menards left, there's been more than 77,000 square feet of empty space.
"We have one vacancy, one large vacancy, but we are working with some clients and hopefully will get that rented out," say Welt.
She can't say which companies are interested in the space, but says architects and contractors will come in soon to look at either subdividing the space or repurposing it for a single store.
"Right now we're in the preliminaries of talking to people, negotiating and trying to get something put together," says Welt.
She believes they will finalize a deal for the empty Menards space in April or May at the latest.
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