MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — Scott Turner knows what he needs to do—he’s just not sure how to do it.
“There aren’t a lot of places in Marshalltown that will accommodate our size and fit our budget,” he says.
Turner’s modest store, Gamer’s Haven, is looking to leave the Marshalltown Mall and find a new space with a brighter future…and brighter lights. But he’ll need to stay in town.
“Moving out of town will alienate a lot of our customers,” Turner says. “A lot of them are kids, so their parents would have to drive them out of town. And a lot of the adults are mentally handicapped so they can’t drive. Moving out of town would mean that they couldn’t come to the store anymore.”
After owner Mike Kohan went some ten months without paying a power bill, Alliant Energy finally shut off power to the Marshalltown Mall. Interior businesses closed immediately, while those with exterior entrances, like Turner’s, were able to find alternative power sources and hang on for the time being.
While anchor businesses like Hobby Lobby, Planet Fitness, and the Plaza 9 Theaters have been able to secure their own power and safety systems, smaller businesses like Turner’s have been hanging on by a thread. But that could change the moment the cold weather arrives.
“There’s no power inside the mall,” Turner said. “So as soon as it gets cold, the fire department will have to turn off the water to the sprinklers and we won’t have any way to put out a fire. We’ll have to close.”
For small business owners like Turner, finding a move-in-ready retail space in Marshalltown isn’t easy.
“Even in our downtown here if you look at the vacant spaces that we’ve got, we don’t have any available vacant spaces,” says Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce President John Hall. “We’ve got spaces that are under remodel, and we’ve got spaces that otherwise aren’t available.”
Hall says these businesses opened at the mall, in part, because leases were cheap and spaces were move-in ready.
“We’re not sitting on available retail spaces that somebody could go to and say ‘I want to lease this space tomorrow,’” he says.
Turner says he’s looking hard for a new spot for Gamer’s Haven, but the eventual move will hurt him in the short term.
“It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of labor,” he says. “Thankfully, we have a very loyal fanbase that has offered their backs and their muscle to help us move to a new spot. But that doesn’t cover the cost of remodeling, that doesn’t cover the lost income for the days that we’ll be shut down–it doesn’t cover any of that stuff.”
Hall says Kohan has told him he thinks he might have a deal worked out to restore the power at the mall by November 18. Hall, who’s dealt with Kohan before when the New York businessman owned the old outlet mall in Story City, isn’t so sure.
“I’m not going to hold my breath,” Hall says.
He says Kohan told him he would be open to selling the Marshalltown Mall, and while finding buyers would take time, he thinks this is ultimately the best-case scenario for the mall and the city.
“Utilizing some of the existing retail spaces (at the mall) is still cheaper than building brand new,” Hall explains, “and so there’s an opportunity there. There’s money to be made there with the right folks, the right developers, the right investors and frankly the right price on the acquisition.”