While the opening of a handful of big-name retail stores this fall in nearby Northgate Centre Marketplace could be perceived as threatening competition, Rogue Valley Mall General Manager Jeff Barber figures it can only be good news.

While the opening of a handful of big-name retail stores this fall in nearby Northgate Centre Marketplace could be perceived as threatening competition, Rogue Valley Mall General Manager Jeff Barber figures it can only be good news.

The rent payments will be going to Regency Centers instead of Chicago-based General Growth Properties, but the accompanying increase in traffic and shoppers to the area will benefit the mall that draws from an eight-county region in two states, he said.

"It's obviously an exciting thing for the community," Barber said. "It creates more of a regional hub for north Medford and the mall area. Trader Joe's and REI are big names, and I think that will help (broaden the appeal) as other retailers look at our market. That can be a help for our leasing opportunities, too."

Amid the flurry of activity a couple of blocks to the west and back-to-school shopping, the mall has seen some changes of its own with new stores on the way.

Just Sports, rue21, Epris and Wetzel's Pretzels are preparing for imminent openings. Barber says those openings also may be a sign of improving times. "We believe these first-to-market retailers will further solidify our standing as the premier shopping destination in our market," Barber said. "This is really the first wave since the economy started to come back."

Epris, a regional retailer based in Springfield, will open a 5,400-square-foot store in the lower level near JCPenney. Epris carries women's and junior's ready-to-wear clothing and also has a location in Salem.

Just Sports is a Puyallup, Wash.-based seller of officially licensed apparel at 28 locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

The Medford store will be the chain's southern-most outpost, according to the Just Sports website. The company carries NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA, and NASCAR gear and will open in September on the upper level across from Macy's Home Store.

Apparel retailer rue21 — French for street 21— operates 770 stores in 46 states. The publicly traded firm, based in Warrendale, Pa., had revenue of $760.3 million and net earnings of $39 million in 2011. The shop offers "emerging fashion trends" for customers of all ages. The 5,914-square-foot store will open in September on the lower level across from Gap.

Wetzel's Pretzels is opening in two locations — in the food court and in a kiosk near Foot Locker. The pretzel purveyor also operates in Portland, Tigard and Eugene.

The mall is 90 percent leased heading into the fall and will be full for the Christmas shopping season, Barber said. He said national retailers are becoming bolder in expanding following the recessionary period.

"We had a lower period in 2009 and 2010," Barber said. "Then in 2011, we started seeing people talk again and deals coming to fruition in 2012 and 2013. What's going on definitely speaks to the market.

"We've never had trouble getting retailers, if we had room. The mall is a first choice. The problem has been if the market has been ready for some retailers. When they see REI and Trader Joe's are coming, that's a helpful thing."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.