COVID catches mall just before work on new restaurants, announcements of new stores Aerie and Green Crush
By Reggie Ellis
VISALIA – After years of staving off corporate closures and retail chain drain, the Visalia Mall was forced to temporarily close this week.
In a Sunday morning memo, mall general manager Richard Feder said all of its retail stores and common indoor areas are now closed but restaurants with exterior facing entrances – Red Robin, Yogurtland and Blaze Pizza – will remain open as anything serving food has been deemed an essential service by the health officials.
“These are challenging times for our world. Please know, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the health and well-being of our guests, employees, tenants and partners and we are closely monitoring the developing COVID-19 situation,” Feder said in the memo, which was posted on the doors of the main entrance to the mall on Monday. “Thank you for your understanding and support. Our heartfelt wishes for your health and safety. We look forward to welcoming you back in the near future.”
announce the mall was again hovering around 96% capacity despite a dismal December for retail across the country. Future stores coming to the mall include Aerie and Green Crush. Aerie is a subsidiary of American Eagle Outfitters, which is also at the mall, specializing in lingerie. Last year Aerie opened 60 new stores — a mix of stand-alone stores and American Eagle-Aerie side-by-sides, bringing the total number of Aerie stores to 332. This year, the brand has plans to open about another 60. The brand’s growth includes the successful AerieReal campaign, which was launched in 2014. At the time, the campaign, which omits airbrushing of its models, featured only one “role model,” British model Iskra Lawrence. Six years later, the campaign now has 13 role models and Aerie will host its first AerieReal Summit in New York City later this month. The one-day event will include the role models, Aerie executives and about 300 members of the Aerie community, along with activations, panel discussions and musical performances. Proceeds from tickets will go toward the National Eating Disorders Association.
Green Crush is the latest store to try and capture slice of the market for fruit smoothies, vegetable and fruit juices as well as fruit salads. The store’s mission is to “introduce an innovative approach to a healthy lifestyle by becoming a more nutritious alternative.” The juicy business made its debut in the Los Angeles area in 2012 and now has 13 locations including stores in Fresno and Bakersfield. In addition to Visalia, Green Crush plans to open locations in Modesto and at the Brea Mall in Los Angeles later this year.
Prior to the pandemic, two restaurants were set to begin working on the interior of the former bank building that was razed last year. Urbane Café and California Fish Grill will likely open sometime this year at the northwest corner of Mooney Boulevard and Beech Street next to the parking structure. Known for its fresh fire-baked focaccia breads, hand-carved meats and hearty salads, Urbane Cafe is a consistent favorite on Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and other restaurant review web sites. Popular with health-and-budget-conscious customers for 15 years, Urbane Cafe is a lunch and dinner destination for families and business people who want a fast, fresh, affordable meal. The lunch and dinner menu at each Urbane Cafe restaurant features fresh, healthy sandwiches and salads served in a warm, inviting setting. Catering and take-out are also popular.
California Fish Grill strives to make healthy, delicious seafood, easy to get and affordable. Menu favorites such as Cajun salmon and battered shrimp tacos are prepared in an open kitchen as vegetables and herbs are chopped, fish is hand battered, and meals are cooked on their signature flame grill.
Just a year ago, a non-virus induced apocalypse seemed to be sweeping the nation as major corporations began to declare bankruptcy in domino-like fashion. In February 2019, mall mainstays JC Penney, Victoria’s Secret, Foot Locker, and Gap all announced store closings. That news came on the heels of Payless ShoeSource, Things Remembered, Gymboree and its sister company Crazy 8 closing all of its stores.
Feder was unfazed at the time, and his belief in the local retail market paid off as the Visalia Mall entered the holiday shopping season with new, up and coming retailers to the Valley. Hibbett Sports helped mall goers get passed the loss of Foot Locker. The sports apparel store, which offers premium tennis shoe brands like Jordan, adidas, PUMA, Nike and Timberland, also carries hats, jerseys and accessories for your favorite team. The store also offers a selection of sporting goods from athletic equipment to sportswear.
The most interesting of the group was BoxLunch. The store is a unique concept using pop culture to raise money to feed those in need. Best known for its pop culture themed apparel and Funko Pop collectives, they also offer science gear and Disney merchandise. Every $10 spent in-store and online secures one meal at St. Francis Center in Los Angeles. The center has served low-income families in the LA area for more than 47 years. BoxLunch and St. Francis together provide household blankets and toiletries, toys complete with gift wrapping services, turkey dinners and free Lyft rides to more than 40 food pantries to help families in need. Now in its fifth year, BoxLunch has raised 50 million meals for people through its partnership with Feeding America. The Visalia store is the only BoxLunch location between Fresno and Bakersfield.
The fastest growing retailer for curvy women now calls the Visalia Mall home. Torrid offers apparel, lingerie and accessories for women sizes 10 to 30. The brand is currently sold in 600 stores in malls and strip malls around the country, including Fresno and Bakersfield.
One of the largest jewelry companies in California opened in the Visalia Mall over the holidays. Headquartered in Culver City, Calif., Daniel’s specializes in jewelry for weddings, gifts and Valentine’s Day. The jewelry chain also has locations in Tulare, Hanford, Bakersfield, Fresno and Clovis. The family owned business began in 1948 in Bell Gardens, Calif. and now has more than 100 stores in California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada.