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Ghost Boxes Appearing In Bismarck


With the largest recesssion in decades sweeping across the nation, forcing local and national businesses to shutter left and right, ghost boxes are now starting to appear in the wake, including many in Bismarck.

A “ghost box” is an empty building or space, usually associated with commercial properties, that are the result of business closures or a failure to attract tenants to newly constructed facilities.

Since the negative affects on the region have been far less impactful than most of the country, it’s hard to believe that ghost boxes are dotting our local landscape, but they are. Here is a list of a few of them.

Home Depot Store (closed) Home Depot closed its Bismarck store in 2008, less than four years from opening. Its opening had been highly anticipated for years, but the nation’s fourth largest retailer found difficulty competing in a flooded market containing two other big box DIY stores (Menards & Lowes) and became the target of a round of closures that included 15 stores. The store was purchased at auction by local investors hoping to attract another major retail tenant, or tenants, to the 100,000+ square-foot orange box, but as of now have announced no definitive plans.
CVS/pharmacy vacated its long-time space (as Osco Drug) at Gateway Mall in February 2009. CVS/pharmacy closed its Gateway Mall location in February 2009 upon relocating into a brand-new freestanding store. CVS (as Osco Drug) had been an original tenant at Gateway Mall when the center opened in 1979, and one of its most visited stores at the time of closure. It had been reported last October that a major tenant was close to signing a lease that would include both the former CVS and Conlin’s Furniture spaces, however it now seems that report was premature.
Hansen's Menswear (closed) Hansen’s Menswear relocated outside of Gateway Mall in October 2009, ending a near 30-year relationship with the shopping center.
Food Court - What's Left of It Gateway Mall in general is fast becoming a ghost box itself, or the more commonly associated term of a “dead mall”. Gateway Mall’s vacancies are at record levels for the 30 year-old shopping center, less than two years since the center reported full occupancy for the first time in years. Its once flourishing food court now consists of one tenant, Subway, who themselves have only limited hours. With the departure of several tenants in 2009 alone, the center’s outlook is unsure.
Scheels Sporting Goods relocated from its mini-anchor space at Kirkwood Mall that it had held since 1984 into the former Target space in 2007. There has been little or no interest shown in the former Scheels space, and with the recent decline of that wing, from the departure of Target, McDonalds, KB Toys, and Wilsons Leather, Kirkwood Mall will find some difficulty attracting a tenant. It’s clear that Scheels is still, at least in part, utilizing the space, however its full potential is not being met.
CVS/pharmacy CVS/pharmacy closed its Kirkwood Mall location in January 2010 upon relocating into a brand-new freestanding store directly northwest of the mall. CVS (as Osco Drug) had been an original tenant at Kirkwood Mall when the center opened in 1971, and a strong tenant for the center. Its high-traffic location, adjacent to Target and at the crossroads of the center, makes it a highly marketable property, and one of the more promising empty spaces to be filled.
Green Mill closed its Bismarck restaurant in 2007 after just a couple years. It was the second major restaurant to close at that specific location (first being Houlihans), despite its prominent placement at a high-traffic corner.
Former Hansen's Furniture Hansen’s Furniture shuttered in 2005 after 46 years in business, another victim of Memorial Highway’s decay. Despite being situated on a well-traveled corner, at the mouth of the Liberty Memorial Bridge, there has been little interest shown for the property. Recent construction of the Liberty Memorial Bridge had certainly played a factor on the difficulty filling this property, along with its relatively small lot size.
Rex TV & Appliance shuttered its Bismarck store in April 2009 after 14 years in Bismarck. Its closure as a result of a merger of the company with Appliance Direct; however, it was originally announced that the Bismarck store would remain open under the new company banner. Perhaps the increasingly popular Gold’s Gym, located in the front of the building, may decide to expand into the space. Otherwise, its location between Kirkwood Mall and the Civic Center makes it a highly marketable property, despite its relative small space.
Former Wilhelm's / Fleck Motors Showroom Wilhelm’s closed its Bismarck dealership in 2007, shortly after it lost the franchise rights of the Buick and Cadillac nameplates to Schwan GM Auto Center. Its closure has left more than an entire city block in downtown Bismarck completely vacant, between the lot itself and the former collision center. Up until Wilhelm’s closure, the property had been home to an auto dealership since 1924, formerly Fleck Motors. Due to its low traffic volume, it is likely that the property will probably become home to apartments or offices.
Meriwether's Restaurant Sign Meriwether’s Landing closed in September 2009 after nearly two decades in existence, citing the closure of River Road as the impetus for its closure, however the restaurant had been on the market prior to the road’s closure. Its unique, tucked-away location on the banks of the Missouri River could either be a blessing or curse to attract a new tenant, if one is sought.
Vlana Vlee will soon be closing its Bismarck store located at Pinehurst Square. Pinehurst Square lost a couple tenants recently as well, including Vlana Vlee and Tuesday Morning, however the center’s thriving nature and well-positioned location makes it quite likely that these spaces will be quickly filled.
Bobcat will be closing its Bismarck plant this week. Bobcat closed its Bismarck manufacturing plant in December of last year after 35 years, leaving an extremely large piece of real estate vacant. Considering that manufacturers often prefer to construct their own building, so it’s better suited for their environment, it could be sometime before the building finds a new owner.
Arrowhead Shopping Plaza Ben Franklin Crafts closed its store at Arrowhead Plaza in 2007 after several decades at the region’s oldest shopping center. The 7,200 square foot space is not the only space currently vacant at Arrowhead Plaza either.
Papa Johns & Hollywood Video Papa Johns and Hollywood Video both closed their locations in this strip center adjacent to Running Farm & Fleet in 2009, however Box Office Video quickly swept in to occupy the Hollywood Video space.
Former Prince Hotel / Van Horn Hotel The historic Van Horn Hotel (known later as “Price Hotel”), has been sitting vacant since Sunrise Senior Living closed its Bismarck operation. The building was constructed by prominent local architect Arthur Van Horn in 1916, and once owned by Edmond Hughes and later Neil Churchill. The building is situated on prime downtown real estate, however lack of private parking will make this building a difficult sell to potential owners.

This is, of course, not a complete listing of every vacant space in the region, but instead a good sampling of the most prominent. Some are empty because of the economy, some are not, but the fact that they remain empty is further indication of the lasting effects of the national recession on the region.

Luckily, a few recently vacated spaces have successfully found new life before entering this list, including the former Hoskins-Meyer Greenhouse and former Conlin’s Furniture space. Let’s all hope the same can be said about the others.