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Outlet center still `alive'

nationally.

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Manager says she's shopping for new tenants

PHOENIX-- The blaring black-and-yellow signs in front of London Fog and Prestige Fragrance aren't exactly the welcome banners Patty Shelton would have hoped for.

Six months after becoming manager of the Pear Tree Factory Stores with hopes of improving the outlet center, Shelton has two national tenants liquidating their inventories because of bankruptcy.

People's perception is `Is the center going out of business?' she says.

Nothing, she says, could be further from the truth: We're alive and well.

London Fog and Prestige are closing stores nationwide as part of reorganization plans formed far from the outlet mall that opened near Phoenix in 1993.

This has nothing to do with the local operation of the stores or the shopping center, she says.

But it has created a rough opening stretch for Shelton and the center's new owners, Pacific Northwest Factory Mall Management.

The privately-held company, whose president is Roseburg businessman Mike Lofrano, owns two centers -- the Phoenix outlet center and a small center off Williams Highway in Grants Pass. It purchased the outlet center in January from founders Bob Finley and Bert and Peggy Ziessau.

Despite the setbacks, Shelton says the 82,000-square-foot center has a bright future, though it won't likely get much bigger. The only expansion planned is a new 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot building that will be built once the right tenant for it is found. She says her efforts to find that tenant have just begun.

Shelton admits the center is smaller than other outlet centers in the region, such as the ones in Bend, Lincoln City and Anderson, Calif. But she says there isn't much room to expand at the site by buying additional land, so she'll focus on making the most of the space she has to work with -- starting with finding good tenants to replace London Fog and Prestige.

We're going to try and replace those with well-thought-out tenants, she says. I don't have enough space to just lease it (to the first company that comes along).

In the short term, the Prestige space -- which she expects to be empty by early November -- will become a Santa shop where children can have their pictures taken with Santa Claus. She doesn't expect London Fog to be completely out before the holiday season arrives.

Shelton says she's looking to use the vacancies to round out the group of retailers in the center, filling in gaps and better reflecting the needs and tastes of the community. She's courting companies such as Osh Kosh and American Outdoor Recreation as potential tenants because children's clothes and outdoor gear are two things she hears customers request frequently.

Shelton is also trying to make the center a more prominent option for Rogue Valley shoppers.

I've had my hands full trying to market the center, she says.

While past efforts have focused on attracting tourists from the 30,000 cars that pass by on Interstate 5 each day, Shelton says she wants to attract more local and regional customers to give the center a more stable base.

To bring in more people from Medford, Grants Pass, Ashland and the like, Shelton has focused advertising efforts on centers of local activity like Miles Field and the Southern Oregon Speedway.

You have to have a strong local customer base, she says, and then the tourist traffic becomes gravy.

Outlet center still `alive'