Exactly two weeks before its scheduled closure, a deal has been announced to save Mayberry Mall in Mount Airy.
The iconic local shopping center that opened in 1968 more recently has been plagued by a leaking roof and related structural deficiencies that threaten public safety.
In December, a county building codes official announced — in conjunction with the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners — that an order to vacate the mall would be executed on Feb. 1, excluding a Belk department store occupying a separate building there.
Then at a meeting on Jan. 11 when the mall situation was updated for city officials, a South Carolina shopping center developer showed up unexpectedly to announce that he was pursuing the purchase of the besieged mall from its New York owner, Mike Kohan. This also included plans to repair the facility.
After disclosing this to Mount Airy leaders, T. Scott Smith, the president and CEO of WRS Inc., a real estate firm in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina said, would he report back on the progress of that effort in one week.
This fell on Thursday, when the Mayberry Mall situation was to be discussed during a meeting of the commissioners. But that meeting was moved to Monday night due to wintry weather.
Mayor discloses breakthrough
When contacted Thursday, Mayor David Rowe delivered some news apparently too good to wait until Monday night, that the sale of the mall appears imminent:
“Mr. Kohan and Mr. Smith have signed an agreement,” Rowe said of the purchase plans.
“I haven’t read the agreement — it is pretty extensive,” the mayor added. “I do know the agreement has been signed and Mr. Smith and his company will own the mall from Kmart down, is my understanding.”
Smith had said on Jan. 11 that in addition to the rest of the mall, he was interested in acquiring the space occupied by a Kmart store until it closed about a year ago. But it has drawn possible purchase interest from Rural King, a Midwest-based farm products company that has acquired other former Kmart locations.
“We still have the situation with the Kmart — that’s still on hold,” Rowe said Thursday. “Mr. Smith has indicated he would like to own the entire mall.”
Safety concerns linger
Despite the sale plans, the mayor cited some lingering concerns.
“My thoughts have to do with the tenants that are there,” Rowe said of those operating businesses at Mayberry Mall, which as of last summer contained about 20 stores employing around 100 people.
They have dealt with mold and other problems due to the condition of the mall along with the uncertainties surrounding its possible closure.
“We still have the public safety issues, even though this deal apparently has transpired,” the mayor said. “We’ve still got the public safety issue even though Mr. Smith says he’s going to go right to work (on repairs).”
One challenge will be isolating the Kmart portion from the rest of the mall during this process, according to Rowe.
It is not known when the acquisition might be finalized. The mayor said environmental studies will be required along with other routine steps accompanying property changing hands, such as a title search.
Rowe said City Attorney Hugh Campbell deserves credit for “a lot of hard work” to bring the mall situation to this point.
Efforts to reach Smith for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.