Is the Lilac Mall ready to bloom anew?

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It's been a while since the parking lot at the Lilac Mall saw traffic like this. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHESTER - The Lilac Mall may soon be able to borrow a phrase best remembered as one of Mark Twain's best, namely, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

In fact, while the venerable mall - the oldest in Rochester - may be down to little more than a handful of tenants now, the future could be brighter soon with a major store expected to be added to the mix this spring.

Rochester's Economic Development chief Karen Pollard said recently a new tenant is expected to move into about half of the former Kmart space this spring or summer.

While Pollard said the identity of the new store will remain confidential, filling half of the former Kmart's 100,000 square-foot space will be a major move forward for the struggling mall.

Kmart, which had been one of the store's two major anchors, closed its doors last year after more than four decades as a commercial mainstay of the city.

The other anchor store, JC Penney, has seen its own share of troubles nationwide the past few years, so any new blood would be a welcome boost for the mall.

The main section of the mall currently comprises JCPenney, Dollar Tree, Bea's Jewelers, a Subway sandwich shop, Dance N Motion, Universal Nails, Seacoast Gymnastics, Jordan Family Eyecare and Mattress by Appointment, which is rarely open. Meanwhile, less than a third of the mall's square footage remains occupied.

Gaping holes remain at the sites of the former Kmart, the former Lilac Mall cinema, Country Essentials, Sears, a bookstore, a sports clothing store, a GNC, a Hallmark store, and several others.

On several occasions during recent midday trips to the mall it was noted foot traffic inside the mall was almost nil, with Dollar Tree the only retail outlet with a line at its registers.

Other tenants in standalone buildings include Hannaford's and Great Bay Community College.

Despite the mall's dismal traffic of late, Pollard believe it's definitely down, but not out.

Speaking of Kmart's departure, she said, "You can't blame these transitions on the mall."

Pollard said mall owners don't want to have to rely on nationwide franchises to populate the mall and are looking to get more local businesses involved as tenants.

Of course the Lilac Mall, for decades the only game in town, will never be able to compete with Rochester Crossings or The Ridge, which Pollard calls the "800-pound gorilla" of Rochester's shopping venues.

Pollard, who worked point on developing and marketing the TIF program that helped fund infrastructure improvements where The Ridge is located, said Phase II, which is proceedings as planned, will bring even more traffic to Rochester's premier shopping venue.

Still, Pollard, who leaves Rochester later this month for a new job in Connecticut, said the Lilac Mall will remain a viable commercial entity for years to come.

"There's still life at the Lilac Mall," she said.

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