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By TODD HEYWOOD
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 17 — Less than two weeks in office and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor is already wrestling with the impact of two soon to close large Lansing-area retail businesses.
Two weeks ago, local bibliophile favorite Schuler Books and Music in Eastwood Towne Center announced it would close that location. Last week, Sam’s Club, located at 340 E. Edgewood Drive on the city’s southwest side, also said it would shut its doors.
While the closing of the two businesses could lead to putting as many as 200 employee out of work, economic development and city officials nonetheless are hopeful. “I really have been talking about corridors, and if we could have Schuler’s on one of our corridors that would help to re-inject some activity. I'm very open to that as well,” Schor said.
Schuler’s co-owner Bill Fehsenfeld said it had been unable to come to a compromise during lease negotiations with the owners of Eastwood Towne Center in Lansing Township. Chicago-based Retail Properties of America Inc. declined to discuss the falling out. With only a month to act, Schuler has not identified another location to move into, Fehsenfeld said last week. Fehsenfeld said this week his sole focus is on the closing of the current location. Its store in Meridian Mall remains open.
Development officials have not had significant conversations with either Fehsenfeld or Walmart about their respective situations.
Schor and Bob Trezise, CEO of Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), said there have been discussions about relocating the book lover’s paradise to the historic and recently restored Knapp’s Center in downtown Lansing, an unidentified location in Frandor which straddles the Lansing and East Lansing city boundaries, and as of Friday, the potential for the former Sam’s Club location.
Sam’s Club, which is part of the Walmart empire, said it was closing the Lansing location, along with 62 other locations nationwide, because of competition, online sales activities and less-than-expected population growth in certain areas. It still operates a warehouse store at Eastwood Towne Center. But there’s a possible silver lining in he announcement.
The company said 10 to 12 of those locations would be transformed into internet fulfillment centers. It is unclear if that will be the case for the south Lansing location, but Schor said he will push for it.
“I would advocate for that, but if we can have a store down there, I think that's — If Schuler’s wanted to go down there — that's my preference, because then it's activated,” said Schor of the Sam’s Club location. “It's not an office building. It's activated. I mean, I want the space used, and I want the jobs and everything. So, we're open to anything. But if we can get another smaller big box or whatever that would be great.”
Added Tresize, “I feel quite positive though this time about a closing like that in this respect because that area is so viable, and there are numerous big box retailers who are doing very well in that mall area. It’s very busy. It’s the center of not only south Lansing, but Holt. I think that we’re attempting to engage Sam’s Club people to understand what happens next about the building. In other words, what real estate company are they going to use, are they leasing or owning the building, is it truly up for sale, and this kind of thing. I really believe that the building will come back into the use of good use sooner rather than later.”
Trezise said Schuler’s moving to the former Sam’s Club “would be a dream come true in that location.”