Santa Fe Fashion Outlets rise like a fortress on an elevation south of Santa Fe, its walls enveloping a shield against the relentless wind.
Inside the imposing entrance is an oasis of calm. A recent Tuesday was not a busy shopping day. The long plaza surrounded by 34 storefronts was devoid of customers except for one or two who periodically passed through it as sentries on their rounds.
âIt’s really, really quiet,â said Susan Knight of Reno, Nevada, for the time being Tuesday the only visible buyer. She had stopped at the mall to kill time before a date.
âWe saw the sign on the highway,â she said, âand we expected a little more action.â
The mall, a presence just off Interstate 25 at Cerrillos Road since 1994, is in foreclosure. Sixteen spaces are occupied, but blackened storefronts once occupied by pillar tenants set the mood.
Oddly enough, inside the remaining stores, the outlook is bright.
âHonestly, we came very close to achieving our goal [last year], and it was like that, âsaid Aaron Buechley, deputy store manager at Merrell, an outdoor shoe store, holding his thumb and forefinger close enough to show a burst of daylight. âThe second we have business here, everything will be fine. “
The property, approximately 16.5 acres in total, including more than 122,000 square feet of retail space, will be auctioned on May 8 at 11 a.m. at the Santa Fe District Courthouse, said lawyer Julia B. Rose. First District Judge David K. Thomson appointed Rose to oversee the sale. It was initially set for April 9 but postponed by Wells Fargo bank.
Rose said postponements are typical, but she did not say why it happened in this case. Albuquerque attorney Spencer L. Edelman of Modrall Sperling, the law firm representing Wells Fargo, said Thursday he could not comment on the case without his client’s permission. The manager of the on-site mall also declined to comment.
Wells Fargo seized the previous owner, Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe LLC, a Delaware-based company, in January; Thomson in February approved the action and ordered the sale. The bank launched the action in September, seeking to recover the money it loaned Fashion Outlets to buy the property from CIBC Inc., another Delaware company, in October 2012.
According to the foreclosure order, Fashion Outlets, which borrowed $ 11 million, owed the bank $ 10.3 million in January, including $ 10.2 million in principal and $ 267,490 in interest. An Albuquerque real estate company, Colliers International, is the receiver or property manager, while the foreclosure matter is unfolding.
Santa Fe County valued the property this year at $ 12.25 million for tax purposes, including $ 9.4 million in structures.
Store managers who spoke about the mall said they felt the property was poorly managed. It would have benefited from more marketing, social media and event promotion that increased consumer traffic, they said. Even on Christmas, it was said, the place looked dark.
Still, some of the brands that remain, like Merrell and Le Creuset kitchenware, have loyal following, their managers said. With a little effort, they added, the mall could be a commercial success.
âWe have a cult,â Buechley said. “If you want a pair of Merrells, you’ll come over here.”
Au Creuset, known for its pastel-colored iron pans and stainless steel pans, employee Zach VanCuren said the store hit its sales targets last year and is on track to meet them this year.
âSales are good,â he said. âThe brand speaks for itself. The people who come here come especially for us.
The mall has its own pace and the midweek dead zone comes alive on weekends, said Marlene Carillo-Ambrose, director of Tools & More! The store was empty by noon Tuesday, the babbling of a dozen different commercials streaming from small flat-screen TVs filling the store like ambient noise. Tools and more! specializes in merchandise that is “seen on television,” Carillo-Ambrose said.
“On Monday, they either wait at the door” when the store opens at 10 a.m., “or there’s no one here until 2 p.m.”
Most of the mall’s shoppers are tourists from Santa Fe or passing interstate travelers, she said, echoing other store managers. November and December, the holiday season, are always busy, along with February and March, thanks to income tax refunds, Carillo-Ambrose said. With a new owner and good management, she said, the mall could be relaunched. Tools and more! recently renewed her lease for another year, she said. Other managers have said the same.
The new Santa Fe Presbyterian Medical Center is rising nearby (its construction office occupies commercial space) and new residential construction portends a bright future, Carillo-Ambrose said.
âIt’s prime commercial property here,â she said.
Originally known as the Santa Fe Factory Stores, the mall opened in 1993 at a construction cost of $ 8 million. It changed hands several times, then bought by Gulfstream Group from Albuquerque, then for $ 9.3 million in 2007 by Talisman Cos. LLC, a Florida corporation. In 2011, according to a report by The New Mexican, the mall was almost full. Today, only a handful of tenants from established brands remain, including Levi’s, Polo Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers and Eddie Bauer.
The loss of several large tenants over the past year has really taken a toll on shopping mall traffic, Carillo-Ambrose said. Under Armor, Wilsons Leather, Kitchen Collection and Luggage For Less have all retired, following Nike and Tommy Hilfiger the year before. Tour buses and trips to senior living centers in Albuquerque have also dropped, she said.
âCustomers are coming in and there are no more than 10 stores, everyone thinks this place is closing,â she said. “It was never a booming place – it never was – but somehow it survived.”