A once-thriving outlet mall neared a milestone Sunday in east Mesa when Toy Liquidators closed its doors. VF Factory Outlet remains open at Power and Baseline roads. But 15 of 31 retail spaces surrounding the anchor store now sit empty.
One more closure, and the 24-year-old mall will be half-vacant.
"It's a shame," said Joe Brown, a winter resident from Canada who has shopped at the mall for years. "This used to be a really nice place."
Closed storefront windows in one desolate wing of the mall have signs that read: "Another Exciting Outlet Opening Soon!"
But Nicole Ganatos, an assistant manager at Dress Barn, said the wing has sat empty since she began working at the mall more than three months ago.
She said part of the mall's problem has been its prolonged lack of a food court or snack bar. "People don't want to shop if they can't get something to drink," Ganatos said.
Creative Ice Cream used to operate the snack bar, but the vendor shut down its services in March - leaving the mall without a source of refreshments for almost a year.
But the aging shopping center got some good news this weekend, when the snack bar reopened under new owners.
Mike Smith, co-owner of Snacks 'N' Such, will sell fountain drinks, popcorn, hot dogs, fresh fruit, coffee, muffins and other assorted snack foods.
He said business has been slow the first week but better than expected. People have not yet realized that the snack bar has reopened, he said, but his business will soon draw more attention as people take notice. "The good news is we're going to be able to pay our rent," he said.
At least for now, the reopening of the snack bar has had little impact on customer traffic.
VF Outlet Power Village, also known as the VF Factory Outlet mall, is looking more like a ghost town as stores go out of business with no new tenants willing to fill the empty shells left in their wake.
Toy Liquidators, the outlet toy store for KB Toys, was the latest to abandon the site. Dress Barn employee Carrie Smith said she fears the problem may be much larger than a lack of refreshments. She has worked at the mall for five years and she said that, in that time period, business has declined on a yearly basis.
Five years ago, Smith said Dress Barn saw sales of up to $7,000 a day.
She said the store struggles now to survive as customers dwindle and sales drop drastically.
She said one serious problem is the mall's image. The lack of interesting stores and abundance of darkened shop fronts deter previously loyal customers from returning and do little to attract new traffic, she said.
Denise Heintz, a manager at VF Factory Outlet, said she has not noticed the decline in business. She said the outlet chain draws many customers on its own and does not need to rely on the surrounding stores to increase traffic.