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Mall space still open

By Ed Brock

Atef Nokaira is confident that he's picked the right location for the furniture store he plans to open on Mt. Zion Road near Southlake Mall.

Not far down the road other furniture chains like Ashley's, Rhodes and Rooms-to-Go are already doing business.

"We chose this location because there are a lot of residential developments going in ? The people who shop in the center come from all over," Nokaira said. "Everybody (in the furniture business) is coming here, so this is becoming like Dawson's Road (in Atlanta)." When Nokaira's store, Ashton's Furniture Expo, opens in early October it will be taking the place of the sporting goods store that once did business there next door to the OfficeMax. That was one of the empty spaces that concerned Scott MacLean of Forest Park.

"A recent morning I drove around Southlake Mall looking around," MacLean said in a letter. "Much to my dismay a large percentage of property sits vacant ? The once proud Southlake Mall area seems to have been passed by, in a sense."

In his letter MacLean points to the vacant buildings that once housed Service Merchandise, Homelife Furniture, UPTON'S, Cinemas 8 and, perhaps the largest hole, Macy's.

The Macy's store closed in January as a result of a merger between Macy's and Rich's, leaving 122 people unemployed.

However, the emptiness is surrounded by signs of hopeful growth, Southlake and City of Morrow officials say.

"We are still actively pursuing someone for (the Macy's) space," new Southlake Mall Manager Cris Burgum said.

Burgum also pointed to the recent opening of three new specialty stores, Demo, Aeropostale and Underground Stations, as a sign that the mall's specialty program is doing well.

But Burgum and Morrow City Manager John Lampl both declined to give details about what will take Macy's place. Lampl also pointed out that much of the empty property that MacLean noticed, particularly Service Merchandise and Homelife, were national chains that went bankrupt nationally.

"It gets complicated (in bankruptcies)," Lampl said. "You don't see these properties turn as quickly as you would think."

Lampl also said that, along with the opening of Nokaira's new store, a North Carolina architect is looking into doing work on Cinemas 8, the old movie theater behind Best Buy.

There's also been a great deal of new development along Mt. Zion Road, Lampl said, including the new h.h. gregg electronics store and other buildings in that area.

"For Morrow that's a huge absorption of space," Lampl said.

There are about 120 storefronts in Southlake Mall and it is owned by General Growth Properties Inc.