Big Lots Leaving

By BEN KLEIN

bklein@timesobserver.com

Big Lots is going; the only question is when.

Big Lots is leaving the Warren Mall, employees at the store confirmed Thursday. When the store will leave or if it will relocate in Warren County are not known, as multiple calls to the corporate office in Columbus, Ohio were not returned.

Asked when and why the store was closing the store manager directed all questions to the corporate office.

With the departure of Big Lots, and the Goodwill store at Warren Mall at the end of August, the mall will only have seven remaining stores – Label Shopper, Kinzua County Auction, Bon-Ton, Master Cuts, Lee’s Nails, Big Kmart and Napoli Pizza.

The directory of the Warren Mall, which still bears former owner George Zamias’ name, lists 68 store fronts, eight of which are currently in use. Also listed are a number of stores that have left the mall in between owners and gives a glimpse of how the mall has declined in recent years. Those that have left include: Dollar General, Shoe Department, Electronic Boutique, Sterling Optical, Kay Jewelers, Northwest Savings, Bath & Body Works, Radio Shack, Ponderosa, General Nutrition, FYI, Aladdin’s Castle, Payless Shoe’s, Tina’s Hallmark, Waldenbook, Best Nails, Claire’s Boutique, Cellular One and Fashion Bug.

It is the latest blow to the enclosed mall which has become a mere shadow of the bustling retail center it was when it opened more than 20 years ago.

Zamias sold the property to Mike Kohan and Warren Mall Realty Management for $720,000 in April 2011.

In March, an appraiser hired by the mall to determine its value established that the fair market value should be $1,032,051, not the $2,194,161.20 that is the current valuation.

Warren County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Skerda ruled that Warren Mall Realty failed to meet its burden of proof and denied the tax appeal.

Kohan sold Warren Mall Cinemas to Dipson Theaters for $360,000 on Oct. 8.

Kohan is listed as the grantor to M & B LLC which purchased the 3.67-acre lot on Sept. 16. The minor subdivision for the lot was approved by the Warren County Planning and Zoning Commission on May 23, according to paperwork filed at the Warren County Courthouse.

“The opportunity presented itself and we took advantage of it,” Michael Clement, president of Dipson Theaters, said. “We leased, now we own.”

As early as 2008, Kohan began purchasing properties throughout the Midwest. After buying the Northland Mall in Minnesota in January 2009 for $1.8 million he told the Daily Globe of Worthington, Minn., he invests in smaller market malls “because they cost less per square foot and their tenants are often the only store of their type within a large radius.”

That would enable the anchor stores in smaller markets to remain open when the national companies start to shut their doors, he said. That apparently has saved stores in Warren and Jamestown, N.Y., when Kmart and Sears began to close a number of their stores in December.

“In a small market, they can’t do it, because if they take J.C. Penney out of the mall you’re not going to have another J.C. Penney within 200 miles. Small markets are kind of safe,” Kohan said in 2009.

Kohan was also unavailable for comment Thursday.