BERLIN — For the moment nearly 50,000 square feet of vacant retail space at one end of the Berlin Mall is all lobby and no hobby, but that should change in the coming months as work on a new Hobby Lobby finally begins.

Ken Simon, vice president of real estate for mall owner Heidenberg Properties Group, said Tuesday the “complicated project, which will accommodate the mall’s next anchor tenant should soon shift from planning to construction.

“We hope to start in the next couple of months,” said Simon, who explained the complexity of the project made it difficult to predict when work would actually begin and supply chain and other issues made it impossible to forecast when the store would open.

Simon said he has an idea, but preferred to keep it to himself for now. He did offer one prediction.

“Everybody is going to be pleased with the final product,” he said.

The project involves connecting and converting a string of now-empty storefronts — including one that last housed a vaccination clinic and was the long-time home of the local J.C. Penney — into a 49,000-square-foot Hobby Lobby.

The lease with Hobby Lobby was announced last November, and at the time work was slated to start in February with an eye toward opening before the holiday season.

Simon didn’t rule out the latter as a possibility on Tuesday, but wouldn’t rule it in either.

“Stay tuned,” he said.

The stripped-down storefronts — two of which were occupied when the Hobby Lobby lease was announced — have been empty for much of the winter. The Shoe Department closed — freeing up the 4,000-square-foot storefront it had occupied since 1997, and Vermont Bobbin Country Store moved to the Walmart end of the mall across from Passumpsic Bank adding another 4,201 square feet to the proposed Hobby Lobby footprint that includes the 34,000 square feet J.C. Penney had occupied from the time the mall opened in 1987 until the local store closed more than a year ago.

Two other small storefronts are part of the project. One, which is right next to the old Penny store, is currently home to the Hub — flexible space the mall makes available for a nominal cost upon request. The other is next to Berlin Optical Expressions and was vacant when the Hobby Lobby lease was announced.

While Simon didn’t delve into the details, he said tying five currently separate spaces together to create one new store was a tricky exercise. There are no plans to expand the existing footprint of the 194,000-square-foot mall. That wasn’t the case when Walmart, which now leases more than 93,500 square feet of space, expanded several years ago. That project involved a mix of interior renovations and a modest addition to the rear of the main mall.

Once complete, Hobby Lobby would be the second largest business in the main mall — only Walmart will be bigger — and the third largest business on the mall property, which includes a free-standing 55,000-square-foot Kohl’s department store.

While work on Hobby Lobby hasn’t yet started, construction of Chestnut Place is nearly complete, though supply chain issues have held up an elevator and delayed the opening of the 98-unit complex that includes a broad range of senior housing.

Local permitting for 30-units of workforce housing — Fox Run — and a standalone Starbucks is also underway. Both projects, like Chestnut Place, are on property that is part of the mall complex and Berlin’s new town center.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

(7) comments

Garrett Grant

Well, good luck to Berlin. Hopefully doubling down on corporate malls, which are failing in most of the country, will work for their taxpayers. Say what you want about Barre, but I'd rather walk in our downtown full of local businesses than a mall parking lot, which is being rebranded as a downtown.

sbettis

So sad to see Hobby Lobby coming to this area - they are a horrible employer - talk about 'personal freedom'...

shirleyanne

i think giving them a chance, could be good for the economy. Personally, loving the idea of a craft store.

Jagarden

I think it is wonderful that Hobby Lobby is coming here. I love that store!

Lfly

Sad to have this type business I our area which so badly needs affordable shopping for clothing shoes and such. What a true disgrace

pcremins

Terrible company? You'd think more businesses in the State is a good thing. What do you care, you aren't paying their bills.

DJHood

Hobby Lobby is a terrible company for many reasons. Just do a little research. I don't think they belong in VT at all, but if they're going to be here, I guess it's fitting that they're in a mall with a Walmart.

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