It might not be the best of times for retailers, but Rogue Valley Mall General Manager Jeff Barber is far from depressed when he surveys the health of his regional shopping center.

It might not be the best of times for retailers, but Rogue Valley Mall General Manager Jeff Barber is far from depressed when he surveys the health of his regional shopping center.

Occupancy is steady at 90.6 percent for the General Growth Properties center, just off the record 93 percent mark. Sales are only slightly off last year's record highs, two new tenants are remodeling space and another is expanding in a different location.

"The foot traffic is down a little and I'm sure with the whole economy thing that people are prioritizing what they are spending their money on," Barber said. "I'm hoping it's a temporary thing."

The way he sees it, consumers are waiting for an excuse to cut loose.

"I think there is some pent-up demand building," Barber said. "People are probably a little nervous and have tightened their purse strings; but that creates pent-up demand."

The mall has long catered to regional visitors who drive more than 100 miles so they can spend several hours under one roof.

"I think the price of gas is holding down the number of trips," Barber said. "We're seeing fewer trips from outlying areas. My guess is they might spend more when they come, but they'll come less often."

Barber says this is the first time sales have receded after trending upwards for several years.

"It started showing up in January or February," he said. "But we're still doing well if you compare it to our pattern over history."

According to figures compiled by Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., for a 20-mile radius around Medford, Rogue Valley Mall has a 14 percent market share for retail goods such as apparel, footwear, entertainment, food outside home, furniture, housewares, gifts and books and magazines. Specifically applied to apparel, the mall pulls down 26 percent of the local sales.

"That's pretty substantial," Barber said.

Candy Tyme is set to open in a 1,153-square-foot location on June 1. Eugene-based Harry Ritchie's Jewelers is remodeling a 1,222-square-foot space and planning to open by July 1. Panda Express is due to open Aug. 1 in the old Hat World spot on the Food Court, with Hat World moving elsewhere.

"Retailers were in a holding pattern for 2008 and in a wait-and-see position," Barber said. "But we're starting to see all kinds of interest in 2009. People have to just hold on tight and see that the world is not coming to an end."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.