A Kmart building is poised to become the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley’s next vacant big box store.

The closure of the retailer was announced in August and, so far, no new tenant has surfaced for the building.

“(There’s) nothing to report,” said Pat McCann, the building owner. “Kmart will be there until December.”

After Kmart leaves, Lewiston likely will have three vacancies of large retail spaces within 1 square mile.

Shopko closed earlier this year, leaving its optometry practice in a small fraction of the space. The practice is moving across Thain Road, likely around the first week of November.

Meanwhile a former 58,000-square-foot Safeway at Nez Perce Plaza shut down in May 2016.

What unoccupied real estate might mean for Lewiston and other towns in the area that are facing big-box store closures is not clear. Here is a look at the issue throughout the region:

Question: What potential risks do vacant buildings pose for a community?

Answer: A proliferation of empty storefronts can shape how people view the vitality of a town.

“There’s a ... broad conceptual issue,” said city of Pullman Planning Director Pete Dickinson. “If there’s a large building that’s not being utilized, does that send a message to the community about the overall business environment of the community and how successful a proposed business might be?”

Despite losing stores, Lewiston’s economy is doing well. The unemployment rate is 2.7 percent, and many jobs here are in the coveted manufacturing sector. Ammunition maker Vista Outdoor and paperboard/tissue producer Clearwater Paper together employ more than 2,000 people.

Which may be why the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley’s economic development experts don’t appear to be worried.

Entrepreneurs look at variables such as mentors and access to capital in making decisions about where to locate, said Valley Vision President and CEO Karl Dye in an email.

“While some entrepreneurs might see empty buildings as a negative, I think there are a lot of them that see empty buildings … as cool opportunities to try something new and different,” said the leader of the not-for-profit economic development group supported by private and public money.

Q: Besides a perception vacant buildings might convey, are there other potential issues surrounding them?

A: Vacant buildings can be at a higher risk for deterioration, even when the owners are responsible caretakers who monitor the premises and make repairs in a timely fashion, Dickinson said.

It’s easier for electrical, plumbing and pest problems to go undetected. A small leak, for example, that would have been spotted by an employee of a business or a resident of an apartment, might not be noticed until it’s turned into a deluge.

Q: The Lewiston Kmart is just the most recent example of a big box chain severing ties with the region. What happened with the auction to sell the 94,007-square-foot Lewiston Shopko building in the summer?

A: It’s not clear.

Bill McCann, whose company owns the ground underneath the Shopko building and other property in the Shopko complex, hasn’t signed an agreement that’s needed to finalize the auction results, said Adam Sklaver, the listing broker for the ground lease holder.

“The stickup is with the landowner,” Sklaver said. “It’s a slow process.”

McCann had a different take on what occurred.

“We heard there were no bids at all,” he said.

Right now, the building is owned by an unnamed party that leases the 9-acre site where the store was, including an adjacent parking lot, from McCann Ranch & Livestock Co., said Sklaver, who is employed by CBRE brokerage in southern Florida.

That ground lease could potentially be extended until Jan. 31, 2038, but at that time, it would expire unless McCann Ranch & Livestock Co. wanted to enter into a new agree-ment, Sklaver said.

If a lease couldn’t be negotiated, the building would go to McCann Ranch & Livestock Co., he said.

Q: What is happening with the former Shopkos in Pullman and Orofino?

A: The Portland, Ore.,-area owner of the Pullman Shopko is examining dividing it into smaller spaces. She has had initial success in recruiting a variety of retail tenants, but isn’t yet ready to share that news publicly, Dickinson said.

In Orofino, community members “are working very hard to get a deal for an interested tenant,” said Chris St Germaine, director of Clearwater County Economic Development in Orofino.

Q: Clarkston’s 33,000-square-foot Bi-Mart location has been vacant since March of last year and is available for lease. What is happening with that building?

A: River Cities Real Estate in Lewiston is handling inquiries.

Uses could include retail sales, medical or professional offices, a school, theater or health club, said Richard White, broker and an owner of River Cities Real Estate in Lewiston.

“We would prefer to have a tenant, which would drive shoppers to the rest of the stores in the center as well as their own space,” White said.

Q: What are some of the reasons the region is losing retailers?

A: It’s a mix. Internet sales are making it tougher for many brick and mortar stores.

Shopko closed all of its locations in a bankruptcy. Kmart emerged from a bankruptcy that also involved Sears under new ownership, but is still paring back. The total number of Kmarts expected to be shuttered this year is 60, leaving fewer than 100 open, according to a Sept. 5 CNN story.

Bi-Mart left Clarkston because the store wasn’t meeting the level of performance the chain requires and has continued to grow in other towns around the Northwest.

Q: What are some examples in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington of retail spaces that have been successfully converted to new purposes?

A: One that’s been getting a lot of attention recently is the Lumberyard Food Hall in Pullman. The restaurant and bar are located in a converted Quonset hut that housed Pullman Building Supply before the store expanded to a new location.

The business also features an outside play area for children and an indoor space that can be used for events such as concerts and farmers markets.

The Lumberyard concept was developed by owner Greg Petry. He was raised in Pullman, graduated from Washington State University and wanted to create a gathering spot for the community that supported him, said Zahlen Zbinden, the Lumberyard’s general manager.

Petry also renovated The State Inn hotel, in Pullman, but is based in the Seattle area where he has a coffee shop and two other restaurants.

Making the Lumberyard work has involved creativity and a willingness to see the project through a more-than five-year process, Zbinden said.

“It’s doing really well especially for being new,” he said.

Other examples include NAPA Auto Parts following Tri-State Outfitters in Lewiston, North 40 Outfitters taking over the former Lewiston Walmart and NRS’ conversion in Moscow of a former Tidyman’s grocery store into its nationwide headquarters.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

Recommended for you