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Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Eastside Memo

Totem Lake Mall seeing steady loss of tenants

Seattle Times Eastside business reporter

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Alexander Simis could have kept running his New York-style deli at Totem Lake Mall. He had three years left on his lease, a stream of 150 customers a day for his deli sandwiches and 23 years at the same location.

But he couldn't turn down an offer he received from Redmond Town Center's property manager: Move to Redmond, and we'll give you a prime location across the street from the movie theater and next to Eddie Bauer.

"The possibility of increasing my sales convinced me to move to Redmond because I didn't see that happening at Totem Lake until after the redevelopment," said Simis, the owner of Piccolino Deli. "Being an impatient person and of Greek extraction, it was time to move on."

Simis joins a parade of businesses leaving Totem Lake over the past decade either for bankruptcy court or for newer malls with a more-constant management team. Although the 290,000-square-foot Totem Lake Mall is 78 percent leased and counts Trader Joe's, Rite Aid and Ross Dress for Less among its tenants, it has struggled to keep companies and customers as owners have come and gone.

Total sales at the mall recovered from a low of $49 million in 2002 — the lowest since the early 1990s — to $56.6 million last year, according to Kirkland sales-tax records. November-through-February sales were at $20.3 million, an increase of 2 percent compared to the same period last year. The space vacated by Gottschalks in the lower mall will be filled by Book Market, a discount bookstore.

Although sales are slowly picking up at Totem Lake, things couldn't happen fast enough for Simis. A week and a half after moving to Redmond, Simis says, his sales are almost identical to what they were at Totem Lake. He's been getting 125 to 150 customers a day for his pastrami and Reuben sandwiches and is starting to cater for local companies.

Some retailers are staying put to see whether the mall's new owners keep their promise to renovate the 31-year-old mall. In the meantime, they're relying on loyal customers to keep them afloat.

"I keep coming here because it's a small business, and I can help support it," said Graham Comley, who has been shopping with his husky, Thierry, at Denny's Pet World for two years. "They have great products, and while the prices are a little higher than the big chains, I keep coming in here for the staff and their knowledge."

A joint venture between two real-estate investment companies, Developers Diversified Realty and Coventry Real Estate Advisors, bought the mall in January for $37 million and plans to raze most of it to build multistory buildings of offices and apartments and a 144-room hotel. The new owners submitted their design plans in April. No construction timeline has been set.

Denny's, one of the mall's original tenants, put its expansion plans on hold for three years while it waited to see what previous owners would do.

"We got tired of waiting for them to make a move and decided to expand," said owner John Fleshman, who added 3,000 square feet to his 18,000-square-foot store a year ago and added 2,000 gallons of saltwater and freshwater tanks in January. "They've been telling us for five years that they would bring in tenants, make improvements and renovations, but nothing seems to happen. We're in limbo."

Eastside Business Notes appears every Wednesday in the Eastside edition of the Seattle Times. Kristina Shevory: 206-464-2039 or kshevory@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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