ELKHART— Elkhart’s North Pointe plaza, struggling to survive since anchor Martin’s Supermarkets pulled out in 2010, is showing new signs of life.
Two new stores are planning to open there in the next two weeks, and more are on the way.
Village Bazaar Value Stores, which buys and resells a wide variety of products overstocked or returned from retailers, plans a grand opening July 16. It will be housed in the former Goodwill store, 3241 Northview Dr., 8,800 square feet of space that has been vacant since Goodwill also moved out three years ago to be close to the new Martin’s store further north on Cassopolis Street.
Owner Rob Horn said you’ll be able to find a little bit of everything in his store, and the product mix will change week to week.
“The supplier I buy from, they have contracts with Amazon, Groupon, Penney’s, Kohl’s, Sears, Macy’s, Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy, you name it,” Horn said. “Everything. Apparel, bedding, toilet paper, electronics, toys. Our concept is 50 percent of retail, and then every two weeks it gets marked down by 10 percent, so it’s ridiculously priced.”
Horn said he moves about a semi-truck load of the merchandise a week through his first store in Mishawaka, which he opened in the bustling Grape Road corridor in 2009. He understands what has happened to North Pointe in recent years, but he isn’t worried about a lack of traffic. He said the Planet Fitness that opened in the former CVS space in December has thousands of members, and the traffic circle next to his store will force those people to pass by.
At the same time, his Mishawaka store has developed a following that might not depend solely on foot traffic. Typically before receiving the weekly truck load of goods, he posts an itemized list of its contents, including the original retail price and his lower price, in an Excel spreadsheet on the store’s Facebook page and on a mobile app. That way customers have an idea of what to expect.
"We had all these questions on Facebook, ’Do you have this, do you have that?’" he said. “It was kind of hard to answer all those questions. It’s been hugely beneficial for us. Sometimes with electronics, tablets or TVs, people will be lined up at 6 o’clock in the morning outside the store waiting for us."
Horn said the concept is "huge" on the West Coast, but he is the first to do it in a truly retail format in the Midwest. He plans to open a third store in Goshen in the next 18 months, and ultimately hopes to franchise.
Across the parking lot, in a much smaller space, Adam and Amanda Hosaflook plan a July 19 opening for their aquatic pet store, Fishkeepers of Elkhart. Amanda has loved fish since childhood, when she bred guppies and sold them to local pet stores. For the past year, she’s been breeding cichlids, an exotic, colorful African fish, and the selling them online.
The business has grown to the point that it needs a retail storefront, she said. The store also will resell fish bred by others in their homes locally, along with a mix of saltwater fish and aquarium supplies.
Like Horn, Amanda is confident that foot traffic in the plaza will grow, but also is counting on other ways to generate sales. She will supply fish to Michiana Aquarium Professionals, a firm that maintains fish tanks at many commercial sites such as doctor’s offices. And she hopes to increase online sales once she is confident she can meet storefront demand after a couple of months.
She is reducing her hours in customer service at 1st Source Bank from full-time to part-time; Adam, an accountant, will handle the books, and her mother, Leah Zacha, will manage the store full-time.
"We’re hoping by moving in there we’ll bring a little bit of life to the shopping center, since it’s been so vacant,” Amanda said. “It looks like more people are going to be moving in so we can get it going again.”
A couple doors down, The Therapy Playce, a Nappanee-based pediatric physical, occupational and speech therapy practice, in April opened a second site in the plaza.
John Letherman, the FM Stone Commerical broker handling the plaza, credited its Fort Wayne-based owner, Equity Investment Group Inc., with lowering rents and giving him more power to negotiate with prospective tenants. That helped land a multi-year lease with Planet Fitness, which is putting about 50 to 60 vehicles at a time in the parking lot, drawing interest from other retailers, he said.
"We’re getting calls to show space on a regular basis now,” Letherman said.
He said he expects to sign a lease with a new nationally branded health food store in the next 60 days. He asked that the company not be named until the deal is finalized.
Letherman acknowledged he has work left to do, with nine of the 13 storefronts still vacant. But he said things are moving in the right direction.
"We’re hoping to bring it back," he said. "We’re going to keep moving."