Hobby Lobby crafting a new store at Thunderbird Mall

Equipment is being brought in to the sight of the former Herberger's store in Virginia. The Thunderbird Mall announced that the area will be converted into a new Hobby Lobby location.

VIRGINIA — It generally takes two to three years to fill vacant anchor spaces at American malls.

Hobby Lobby, the largest privately-owned arts and crafts retailer in the world, is opening a new store in a portion of the space formerly occupied by Herberger’s, mall officials confirmed Tuesday.

“We’re excited to have Hobby Lobby coming in,” said Andy Weiner, president of RockStep Capital of Houston, Texas, the company that owns the mall. “We have a very good relationship with Hobby Lobby. We’ve worked with them for the last 10 years. They wanted to be on the Iron Range and we’ve been trying to figure out a way to get them up there.”

Attracting Hobby Lobby less than a than a year after the August 2018 closure of Herberger’s, a longtime anchor tenant, is a major accomplishment for the mall and RockStep.

“Hobby Lobby will drive traffic not only to the Thunderbird Mall, but to other businesses,” said Jody Vest, mall manager and RockStep Capital director of mall management. “RockStep understands small community center redevelopment. We opened six new stores at the Thunderbird Mall between November 2017 and November 2018, which is staggering considering the impact of the Amazon effect and resulting national bankruptcies on not only the Thunderbird Mall, but the shopping center industry at a national level.”

The store is projected to open in September or October, Weiner said.

Of the 67,000 square-feet of space formerly occupied by Herberger’s, Hobby Lobby will utilize 50,000 square-feet, said Weiner. Three additional potential tenants are currently being courted to occupy the remaining 17,000 square-feet or other mall space, said Weiner.

The store is expected to attract shoppers from a wide geographical area, boost economic activity within the mall, increase traffic at other area retailers, and help attract more new businesses to the mall.

“I think it will be a good fit for Virginia,” said Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. “They are a solid company. They will contribute to our community and to our tax base.”

City officials met with RockStep representatives approximately five times within the past year to “think outside the box,” in revitalizing the mall, Cuffe added.

RockStep has additional development plans, including creating more pads outside of the mall on which to build new businesses such as Caribou Coffee, which was built on the east side of the mall, according to Cuffe.

“They (Hobby Lobby) made an announcement to us (city officials) last week that they’re coming,” Cuffe said. “I think Mr. Weiner has done yeoman’s work to generate these kind of opportunities. I do have confidence now that we will see that property revitalized.”

Melissa Cox, president and chief executive officer of the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce in Virginia, said the store will help bring new economic growth to the Quad Cities and surrounding area.

“From an economic development standpoint, we’re excited to have new business coming into the region,” Cox said. “We encourage people to shop local and we welcome new businesses into the community. To have a big company come in and look at this area helps attract other investors.”

Weiner said a Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation grant was critical in attracting Hobby Lobby.

“The IRRRB gave us a demolition grant which was used to help demo the inside of the space where Hobby Lobby will be,” he said. “That allowed us to lower the occupancy cost for Hobby Lobby. The economics of the deal would not have happened without the IRRRB.”

Without a men’s fine clothing store on the central Iron Range, Cuffe says he hopes the mall can also attract a men’s clothing and sundry store.

“You have to drive to Duluth or Grand Rapids now,” said Cuffe. “We need a clothing store in Virginia.”

Hobby Lobby, based in Oklahoma City, Okla., was founded in 1970.

Today, the company has more than 37,500 employees at over 840 stores in 46 states.

In 2018, the company opened 54 new stores and relocated 20 stores.

An estimated 65 new store locations are opening in 2019 with another 16 stores relocating.

Hobby Lobby primarily retails arts and crafts, but also features hobbies, picture framing, jewelry making, fabrics, floral and wedding supplies, cards and party ware, baskets, wearable art, home accents. and holiday merchandise. It offers more than 70,000 crafting and home décor products in its stores.

The company has more than 10 million square-feet of manufacturing, distribution and office space in Oklahoma City.

Businesses that have opened at the Thunderbird Mall recently, including ALDI, Caribou Coffee & Einstein Bagel, Iron Range Apparel, The Pebble Spa Co., Tractor Supply, and Verizon.

RockStep Capital, a full-service real estate investment firm founded in 1996, has purchased or constructed over 7 million square feet of shopping centers in 10 states.

Hobby Lobby confirmed by email Tuesday that it has signed a lease at the mall. According to Hobby Lobby, it currently has 17 stores in Minnesota.

Hiring will take place closer to the opening date. Non-management positions will be listed on the Hobby Lobby web site https://careers.hobbylobby.com/current-openings/retail-hourly.

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