The County Fair Mall will be spared the wrecking ball thanks to local entrepreneurs the Saumure Group.
The Saumures’ purchase of the property was officially announced before a crowd of several hundred well-wishers at the mall Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 14.
“Work begins now for a better tomorrow,” said Saumure Group Chief Financial Officer Bob Mulrooney. He said the new owners, who received the keys to the mall that morning, had reached out to all current tenants in the building in an effort to persuade them to stay.
Previous owners, RIoCan Real Estate Investment Trust, notified all businesses located at the mall in September of their plan to close it permanently in January. The property had been largely vacant following the departure of key tenants Target and Staples. It was rumoured that the entire property would eventually be demolished. The Saumures began negotiating with RioCan in November.
Mulrooney said the tenants, which include Food Basics, the Dollar Store, the Licence Bureau, and Dentistry @ Smiths Falls, “were pleasantly surprised when we reached out to them and offered to extend their leases.”
Although it remains uncertain which tenants will be staying, Saumure Group Vice President Chris Saumure said Food Basics “will not be leaving Jan. 31.”
As well, Saumure announced that Four Degrees Brewing will set up its local brewery in the vacant Staples store at the mall.
Murph’s, the short-lived restaurant which went out of business after the plan to close the mall was announced, has also expressed a desire to return, Saumure confirmed.
If a single tenant cannot be found to take over the store formerly occupied by Zellers and Target, said Saumure, it may be subdivided to house several smaller businesses. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” he said.
Samure said his company will also work to bring new businesses to fill vacancies in the large property, which has been a fixture in Smiths Falls since 1975. “We’re going to make it so that people are back in here,” said Saumure. “The last thing I want is to see this bulldozed.”
Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow said he was pleased that a “homegrown solution” has been found to save the mall. Despite RioCan having “given up” on the County Fair Mall, Pankow said he had not given up hope. “I just had a sense, and a feeling in my gut, that all was not lost, and that the last chapter on this mall had not been written.”
Mulrooney said the Saumure Group has a long history of breathing new life into abandoned properties in the area, dating back to 1980 when the company began operating in the kitchen of Guy and Carol Saumure’s home. Properties owned by the Saumures now provide over 450 jobs in Smiths Falls, he said.
The Saumure Group owns Cornelia Court, the former RCA Victor Plant, the old Dominion Store at 94 Beckwith St., the old Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute building, and the portion of the old Hershey plant now occupied by Tweed Inc.
“We greet today’s announced with great excitement, and we look forward to the rebirth of the County Fair Mall,” said Pankow.