Big changes coming to the Merced mall - at least 5 stores including this newest one

The massive empty former Sears building at the Merced Mall will be transformed into eight separate spaces, city staffers said on Wednesday.

That section of the mall will be anchored by Burlington Coat Factory, which is set to open in March, and the other four stores will be announced later as those deals are solidified, Mayor Mike Murphy said in a social media post.

Plans to revamp the Merced Mall moved forward in March and an official with the company that runs the shopping center says construction could begin this year.

The mayor announced on Facebook there would be five stores inside the former Sears, but city staffers said there will actually be room for eight. A separate new pad is planned close to the corner of R Street and Olive Avenue that would make room for two more, city staffers said.

“This is another step forward for Merced,” Murphy said in a telephone interview. “We’ve been really excited about the redevelopment for the mall. We’re excited the old Sears won’t be vacant for long.”

Officials announced a plan in 2016 to give the mall a new look as a means to entice younger shoppers away from Internet purchases and into visiting the 50-year-old brick-and-mortar plaza. Retail stores around the country have struggled with the rise of Amazon and other online merchants.

The mall has lost a few stores and eateries in recent years. Perhaps most notably, it lost the 90,000-square-foot Sears late last year. The former Sears piece of the mall has separate owners than the rest of the mall.

The people who run the mall have said they need to decide whether to move the nearby theater into the mall or enlarge it where it stands. The 22,000-square-foot theater, if it stays put, could be expanded up to 55,000 square feet, officials have said.

All of the new tenants could be retail stores or restaurants, according to Frank Quintero, the city’s director of economic development. With a large retail space like Burlington, what the industry calls an “anchor store,” that portion of the mall has a greater chance of attracting other retailers.

Quintero said five stores are looking at joining the mall once the new section is complete, but he stopped short naming any of them. The owners of the Sears portion of the building were recently given the green light to change the facade of the building, he said.

“There’s always been a question of the brick-and-mortar versus the Internet,” Quintero said. “I think you’re going to see that this is a demonstration that brick-and-mortar is still active, and learning to co-exist with the Internet.”

Burlington operates 567 stores in 45 states and Puerto Rico. The stores offer clothes, home decor, linens and other products at up to 60 percent off other retailers’ prices, according to its website.

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