After Sears announced last month that it will close its Grand Teton Mall store in early 2019, Idaho Falls residents and business leaders are anticipating which store could replace it.

While the Grand Teton Mall, which is owned by Brookfield Properties, a Chicago-based real estate investment group, has not yet announced a new tenant for the space or indicated the type of retailer it is pursuing, the mall is actively working to fill the space, according to multiple people with knowledge of its dealings.

Sears Holdings Corp., the company that owns Sears, Kmart, the Kenmore brand, DieHard batteries and Shop Your Way, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month and announced plans to shutter 142 unprofitable stores, including the Grand Teton Mall Sears, the Associated Press reported.

Sears, which will remain open through the holiday season, is one of four anchor stores in the Grand Teton Mall. The business that fills the soon-to-be-vacant space will likely become an immediate shopping staple for residents in eastern Idaho.

Debra Herbst, 67, of St. Anthony, who was shopping at Sears on Tuesday, said most of the appliances in her house are from Sears and she and her husband are sad to see it go.

“I don’t know if you can replace it,” she said.

Herbst hopes Costco will replace Sears. She and her friends drive to Costco in Pocatello about once per month, she said, because of the wholesaler’s low prices and variety of products.

“They have things that other places don’t,” she said.

And, she added, the Walmart in Rexburg (the closest large retailer to St. Anthony) is “a joke with all of the college kids,” so she prefers not to shop there.

Herbst said that the Sears space is probably too small for a Costco, however she still hopes to see one closer to her home than Pocatello.

Brent Wilson, an eastern Idaho brokerage services specialist at Thornton Oliver Keller, who represents Costco, confirmed that the Sears space — about 73,000 square feet — would be too small for a Costco, which typically occupies about 150,000 square feet. He added that Costco usually builds space and doesn’t lease.

Wilson said that, based on his research, eastern Idaho residents want a sporting goods store to fill the space.

“The community wants a Dick’s Sporting Goods,” Wilson said. “(Dick’s has) been looking at Idaho Falls for years, but they aren’t buying stores anymore.”

Dana Kirkham, Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho’s CEO, expects a new tenant that provides a social experience, such as an entertainment business. Due to the rise in e-commerce, people don’t just go to the mall to shop anymore, considering they can get everything they need online.

“People are seeking experiences more than they’re seeking retail,” she said. “They want to be entertained, have things to do, they want to socially interact.”

Caralee Brasher, 18, and Kelson Casperson, 18, of Idaho Falls, said they typically only go the Grand Teton Mall for the food. Neither are regular Sears shoppers.

“I’d rather have a clothing store, personally,” Brasher said.

Brasher said she will visit the mall more often if Sears is replaced by a Forever 21 or Nordstrom.

No matter which business replaces Sears, local real estate and economic leaders, such as Kirkham and Wilson, are watching it closely, considering the Grand Teton Mall has a significant economic and cultural impact on the greater Idaho Falls area.

Kirkham said the mall adds to the area’s quality of life, which furthers economic development.

“I think quality of place always helps in economic development,” Kirkham said. “Cultural experiences are very important to workforce retainment and attraction.”

The Grand Teton Mall doesn’t just attract Idaho Falls or Ammon residents but is a regional shopping hub for surrounding counties as well.

Wilson said the mall brings in shoppers from 10 surrounding counties and, compared to malls around the U.S., which have declined in recent years, the Grand Teton is doing well.

“It’s performing at a healthy level,” Wilson said. “We’re kind of bucking the national trends.”

And when the mall is thriving so are the surrounding businesses that benefit from mall traffic. Visitors shop at surrounding businesses and frequent restaurants close by before they head home, Wilson said.

“These people don’t just go to the mall when they drive into town,” he said. “The mall is very important.”

Sears is set to close in February and is currently hosting a store closing sale.

Brookfield Properties did not respond to a request for comment regarding details of Sears’ replacement.

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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