MENTOR, Ohio — People are back in the stores and states are well on their way back to normal from the pandemic. However, businesses that have suffered over the last year are still hurting.
Just days ago, Washington Prime Group, the owners of Great Lakes Mall in Mentor, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as many have been forced to do. City leaders say they did get a heads up before the announcement.
"We were aware of it long before the announcement was made," explains Mentor City Manager Kenneth Filipiak. "We have actually been in close contact with many of the representatives from Washington Prime."
Based on those conversations, Filipiak believes the mall is here to stay, one of the hallmark locations under the Washington Prime umbrella.
"Some businesses come and some go, but the attraction to the Mentor market has remained. And that will continue because it’s a great environment in which to do business," he says.
In a statement to 3News, Washington Prime Group used the term "business as usual" to describe the status of Great Lakes Mall.
“It’s business as usual at Great Lakes Mall. The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for many consumer-facing companies, including Washington Prime Group. The Company has determined that the Chapter 11 path is the most effective next step to resolve the Company’s outstanding indebtedness as we emerge from the pandemic. Throughout the Chapter 11 financial restructuring, we expect business as usual at our town centers, including Great Lakes Mall where our tenants, sponsors and employees will continue operating as normal, with a focus on providing enjoyable experiences for our guests.”
The Mentor area has served as a hub for retail in Northern Ohio for years, boasting an overall 92% occupancy rate of retail establishments, including the mall. That's a number that didn't fluctuate much during the pandemic.
"Retail isn’t going anywhere. Certainly, the pandemic changed a lot of people’s habits. And it will take some time for those to come back," says Filipiak.
By restructuring company debt, the mall's owner hopes to stick around as that comeback continues. With any luck, Great Lakes Mall won't end up on the chopping block like other malls that have shut down.
"They have every interest in not only sustaining it, but investing in it," Filipiak says of Washington Prime Group, adding that the city has been in talks with the company about adding additional projects on mall property. So clearly, they’re thinking growth, not closings.