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Von Maur departure talk brings unrest for Sycamore store owners

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | DECEMBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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For University of Iowa freshman Liz Behlke, Sycamore Mall was one of the best parts of growing up in southeastern Iowa City.

"I feel like it brings people over to the East Side," she said.

But the possible relocation of Von Maur, which is now an occupant of the mall, has left a few business owners in the facility uncertain about the mall's future. With the business gone, some say they will have to amp up initiatives to bring customers in.

Von Maur officials initially sent out a press release early this fall about the store's relocation.

The store's decision to locate to Coralville's Iowa River Landing was propelled by economic incentives offered by the city.

"Von Maur was the anchor for Sycamore Mall," UI Professor Emeritus of urban planning Peter Fisher said. "It still is. Nobody's expected to stay there if it moves."

Arik Akers, the owner of Lucky Resale consignment store, said Von Maur moving out of Sycamore Mall has solidified his decision to relocate after his lease expires in 2014.

"We'll have to do a lot more outside advertising to make up for the loss of foot traffic and people coming to the mall," Akers said.

The owner is not the only one in Sycamore Mall to scout out new locations. Akers said other stores have also talked about leaving.

Doug Krutzfeldt, the owner of Wilson's Sports Center, said his decision to relocate his store to Eastside Plaza was solidified by Von Maur's possible relocation.

"I think a number of us here view this as a not real positive circumstance," Krutsfeldt said. "Von Maur's drawn a lot of customers in here over the years, and it has a very loyal following. It will certainly change the environment."

Akers said he is concerned about the future of Sycamore Mall.

"It definitely seems like things are going downhill for Sycamore," he said, and he believes several businesses have left. "There's supposed to be two more [businesses] exiting in January. The lack of Von Maur is going to make for a lot of empty storefronts."

Kevin Digmann, the manager of Sycamore Mall, said he does not feel the possible relocation of Von Maur would have a substantial negative effect on the mall.

"Other users that would have more of a broad base, a mix of clientele that would benefit a lot more stores have showed interest in coming to Sycamore," he said. "If Von Maur does leave, they're fairly confident they'll have somebody in place."

However, Krutsfeldt said worried discussion has taken place among business owners.

"Well, people are keeping their comments close to the vest," he said. "I think if they had their choice, other merchants would wish things were not changing and that Von Maur would stay."

One business owner, however, remains positive about the mall's potential future without Von Maur.

"Everything changes, but I'm really not worried. I don't see it crippling anybody," said Renee Vogt, the owner of Renee's Ceramics. "I think we're secure."


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