Berkshire Mall lots partially unplowed as retailers continue exodus
LANESBOROUGH — There are plenty of parking spaces available at the Berkshire Mall, but most of them aren't accessible right now because they're buried under the snow.
Most of the mall's vast parking area was not plowed after last week's winter storm. Some lots located in front of areas where stores have closed are completely unplowed, although pathways to mall entrances have been opened in those places.
At a meeting of the Baker Hill Road District's Prudential Committee on Wednesday, board members said they were satisfied the county's largest retail shopping complex was adequately plowed. But Lanesborough public safety officials said additional plowing needs to be done to ensure that fire department vehicles have easier access if they are required to respond to the 720,000-square-foot shopping complex. The Baker Hill Road District has jurisdiction over the mall property.
In a telephone interview following Wednesday's meeting, Mike Kohan, the principal of mall owner Kohan Retail Investment Group of Great Neck, N.Y., said he was not aware that only portions of the mall's parking lot had been cleared of snow.
"Yes, absolutely," Kohan said, when asked if the mall's entire parking area will be plowed. "I'm not aware of that so I'll have to talk to the company that's plowing. We haven't heard any complaints about it from anybody."
The partial plowing comes amid a dramatic decline of traffic in and around the mall. A steady stream of tenants have left since Kohan Retail Investment Group purchased the 30-year-old financially struggling shopping center for $3.5 million in September 2016.
Three of the mall's five anchors have left since October 2015, and Sears — one of the mall's original anchors — is closing later this month. In November, the Eagle counted 23 empty storefronts among the mall's more than 70 retail spaces. Two eateries, the Garden Grill & Tavern and Mexi Burger closed at the beginning of the year, according to a mall merchant. Two more tenants, national retailer American Eagle Outfitters and the locally owned Solomon's Furniture, have added their names to that list this week.
"It's all the state of the economy; obviously the sales are not as expected," Kohan said in reaction to the latest closings. "I didn't know about the furniture store."
As the parking areas remain under snow, Kohan is still paying off his snow removal bill from last year. The contractor, Petricca Construction of Pittsfield, has taken legal action to recover the almost $250,000 it is owed for last year's services.
Last week, a Central Berkshire District Court judge allowed Petricca to attach the rents of five mall tenants to collect $72,009 of that sum from Berkshire Mall Realty Holding LLC, which is Kohan's local affiliate. With interest, that sum currently stands at $248,997, according to court documents.
"The process will be to continue this until it's all collected," said Michael MacDonald, vice president and general counsel for Petricca Industries Inc., which owns Petricca Construction.
"What we're doing is trying to locate the rent that we've been owed for a year," MacDonald said. "We've paid our workmen and paid for our materials. We just need to recoup the money."
Petricca did not do the partial plowing job after this season's snow, and it was unclear on Wednesday who did. Petricca Construction originally filed a lawsuit against Berkshire Mall Realty in Berkshire Superior Court in March seeking payment of last year's snow removal contract. The court found in Petricca's favor in May, but when the judgment wasn't honored the contractor sought legal permission in November to initiate a procedure known as a trustee process to obtain the funds. In Massachusetts, this procedure allows a third party — instead of the creditor — to attach a debtor's property, a process similar to garnishment. The third party is known as a trustee.
"In this situation, the trustee process essentially allows Petricca. as the holder of the judgment, to have the mall's tenants pay their rent directly to Petricca to pay the mall's judgment," said attorney David Valicenti, of Pittsfield, who is representing Petricca, via email. "They simply pay their rent to a different place until the judgment is paid."
The five tenants whose rents have been attached include Regal Cinemas, Sears and Solomon's Furniture. Regal and Sears' portions make up all but $8,000 of that $72,000 sum.
Petricca is also seeking to attach the rents from 11 other mall tenants, including Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works. Foot Locker, American Eagle Outfitters, and Hannoush Jewelers of Massachusetts.
"All the named tenants remain involved," Valicenti said.
Kohan said Berkshire Mall Realty intends to live up to the terms of last week's court ruling.
"We are resolving that issue," he said. "As you know the mall is suffering. We have very limited income, that was the reason. I tried to catch up with this guy. I'm settling with them now."
Although only part of the mall's parking area has been plowed, one store owner said the situation hasn't affected his business.
"They've plowed around the entrances that need it," said Mike Sacco, who owns Peace Train Tees, which has been located in the mall for eight years. "They're not doing any more than they need to, but it's not really a problem at all. It doesn't make sense to pay someone $100,000 for lots that are not being used."
Target, which owns its own store at the mall, is plowing its own parking area.
"We take care of our own [plowing] now," a store employee said Wednesday.
All the store closures and financial problems at the mall have cast a pall over some store owners.
"Everybody is pretty much, I'd not say depressed, but resigned," said Sacco, whose business is doing well. "It doesn't look good. ... There's no one to communicate with in either a positive or a negative way."
Kohan said he's interested in putting the situation with Petricca Construction "to rest" in order to focus on the mall and "hopefully to do something for the community."
"I'm talking to some big tenants," he said. "But with the state of the economy in the mall, as you know, it's hard to do our best."
Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 413-496-6224.
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