Bellis Fair Mall: Beacon of Commerce in Bellingham, WA

Bellis Fair Mall: A Retail Landmark in Bellingham, WA

Bellis Fair Mall, a prominent enclosed shopping center in Bellingham, Washington, opened its doors in August 1988. Developed by General Growth, it emerged as a key player in the region’s retail landscape.

The mall’s strategic location along Interstate 5, near the interchange with State Route 539, enhanced its accessibility and appeal.

Over the years, Bellis Fair has undergone several transformations, adapting to the evolving retail market and consumer preferences.

Its journey from a bustling shopping destination to facing financial challenges and eventually being acquired by 4th Dimension Properties in December 2022 for $44 million reflects the mall’s resilience and adaptability.

The mall featured notable anchor tenants like JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Macy’s Home Store, alongside Dick’s Sporting Goods and Target.

Today, Bellis Fair continues to serve as a central hub for shopping and things to do in Bellingham, WA, attracting a diverse range of tenants and customers.

The Inception and Early Years of Bellis Fair Mall

Birth of a Shopping Destination

Bellis Fair Mall marked its grand opening in August 1988, a significant milestone in the retail history of Bellingham, Washington.

Developed by General Growth, a renowned real estate company, the mall was built on a former USDA Soil Conservation Service plant-materials center site.

This strategic location and innovative design set the stage for a new era in regional shopping experiences.

Anchor Tenants and Retail Shift

The mall initially boasted a lineup of prominent anchor tenants, including JCPenney, The Bon Marché (now Macy’s), and Sears.

These major retailers were instrumental in drawing both local shoppers and visitors to the mall. The arrival of Bellis Fair was a game-changer for Bellingham’s retail landscape, as it pulled significant foot traffic away from the downtown area.

This shift underscored the mall’s impact on local commerce and the broader economic environment of the region.

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Early Success and Cross-Border Influence

Bellis Fair Mall enjoyed immense popularity in its early years, particularly among Canadian shoppers.

Its proximity to the Canadian border made it a favored destination for cross-border shopping, especially during the early 1990s.

This international appeal was a testament to the mall’s diverse retail offerings and ability to attract a wide customer base.

Major Developments and Tenant Changes

The 1990s: Expansion and Economic Shifts

The 1990s brought significant changes to Bellis Fair Mall. In 1990, Nordstrom Place Two, a subsidiary of the upscale Nordstrom chain, was added to the mall’s tenant roster, having relocated from downtown Bellingham.

This addition was a major coup for Bellis Fair, enhancing its status as a premier shopping destination.

However, the latter part of the decade saw challenges as the Canadian dollar declined in value against the American dollar, impacting cross-border shopping trends.

Bellis Fair Mall
Bellis Fair Mall” by wrenoud is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Tenant Evolution and Economic Impact

Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Bellis Fair experienced a series of tenant turnovers.

Notably, the Nordstrom Place Two store was converted into a Nordstrom Rack in 1994, only to close five years later in 1999.

This period also saw the introduction of Old Navy, further diversifying the mall’s retail mix. These changes reflected the mall’s adaptation to market trends and consumer preferences.

Bellis Fair in the 21st Century

Transition and Modernization

The early 2000s marked a period of significant transition for Bellis Fair Mall. In 2003, the Bon Marché stores were rebranded to Bon-Macy’s, reflecting a broader corporate rebranding strategy.

This transition was completed in 2005 when the stores were finally renamed Macy’s, aligning with the national branding of this iconic retail chain.

In 2006, the retail landscape at Bellis Fair continued to evolve with the closure of Mervyn’s stores across the Pacific Northwest.

Kohl’s, a well-known American department store chain, took over the Mervyn’s location at Bellis Fair, introducing a new dimension to the mall’s retail offerings.

This shift was part of a larger trend where malls were diversifying their anchor tenants to include a mix of traditional department stores and more contemporary retail formats.

Enhancements and Renovations

In 2015, Bellis Fair Mall underwent a significant renovation. This revamp included updates to the common areas, food court, and entryways, enhancing the overall aesthetic and functionality of the mall.

These improvements aimed to provide a more modern and inviting shopping experience, reflecting consumers’ changing tastes and expectations in the retail sector.

Financial Challenges and Ownership Changes

Facing Financial Difficulties

In the later years, Bellis Fair Mall encountered financial challenges. In February 2022, Brookfield Property Partners defaulted on a substantial $77 million loan.

This financial strain reflected retail centers’ broader challenges as they navigated an increasingly competitive and evolving retail landscape.

Auction and Change of Ownership

The financial difficulties culminated in the mall being put up for auction. In December 2022, 4th Dimension Properties acquired Bellis Fair Mall for $44 million, a significant decrease from its previous valuation.

This acquisition marked a new chapter in the mall’s history, with the new owners expressing their intent to revitalize the mall and improve its occupancy rate.

Strategic Plans for Revival

Under the ownership of 4th Dimension Properties, Bellis Fair Mall embarked on a journey towards rejuvenation.

The new owners aimed to attract nontraditional tenants and explore innovative strategies to increase foot traffic and consumer interest.

This approach indicated the shifting dynamics in the retail industry, where malls increasingly seek to diversify their offerings and create more experiential destinations for shoppers.

The Current Landscape of Bellis Fair Mall

A Diverse Tenant Mix

As of 2024, Bellis Fair Mall hosts a variety of tenants, ranging from fashion retailers to dining establishments.

Notable stores include American Eagle Outfitters, Bath & Body Works, and H&M, alongside tech giants like AT&T and Verizon.

The food court has been rejuvenated with options like Chipotle and Panda Express, catering to diverse culinary tastes.

This mix of tenants reflects the mall’s strategy to offer a comprehensive shopping and dining experience.

Community Integration and New Additions

Bellis Fair has integrated community-focused facilities, such as the Bellingham Public Library branch, which opened in April 2023.

This addition is part of a broader strategy to make the mall a community hub. Newer stores like Ulta Beauty and Vans have also been added, keeping the mall’s offerings fresh and relevant.

In response to evolving retail trends, Bellis Fair has embraced the inclusion of nontraditional tenants.

This includes spaces like Bellingham Makerspace and Whatcom Intergenerational High School, adding educational and creative dimensions to the traditional retail mix.

These additions are part of the mall’s effort to remain a dynamic and multifaceted destination in Bellingham.

Anchors of Bellis Fair Mall – Stories of Resilience and Change

Macy’s and Macy’s Home Store

Macy’s and its subsidiary, Macy’s Home Store, have been key anchors in Bellis Fair since the early 2000s.

These stores have adapted to changing consumer preferences, offering various products from fashion to home furnishings.

Their presence continues to be a significant draw for the mall, contributing to its status as a primary shopping destination.

Kohl’s – A New Era

Kohl’s, which replaced Mervyn’s in 2006, brought a fresh retail approach to Bellis Fair. Out of clothing, home goods, and beauty products, Kohl’s has become a one-stop shop for many customers, enhancing the mall’s appeal to a broad demographic.

JCPenney – A Stalwart Retailer

JCPenney has been a part of Bellis Fair since its inception. Over the years, it has maintained its position as a reliable, affordable fashion and home product provider. JCPenney’s resilience and ability to adapt to market trends have become a cornerstone of the mall’s retail offerings.

Target – Beyond Basics

Target, known for its wide range of products, from groceries to electronics, has been an integral part of Bellis Fair. Its presence offers convenience and variety, making it a popular destination for shoppers seeking a comprehensive shopping experience.

Ashley Furniture – Home Comforts

Ashley Furniture opened in the former Sears space in 2018, bringing a new dimension to the mall’s offerings. Ashley Furniture specializes in home furnishings and caters to the growing demand for quality home decor and furniture, adding to the mall’s diversity.

Dick’s Sporting Goods – Sporting Enthusiasm

Dick’s Sporting Goods, which replaced Sports Authority in 2017, has become a go-to destination for sports enthusiasts in Bellingham. Offering a wide range of sports equipment, apparel, and accessories has filled the gap for sports retail in the mall.

Bellis Fair Mall in 2023: A Year of Revival and New Beginnings

New Retail and Dining Experiences

The mall welcomed several new stores, catering to various interests and needs. Notable additions included AniMyNation, Just Cozy, Zorganics Cosmetics, and Gold N Time Jewelers, each offering unique products that enriched the mall’s retail diversity.

For those with a sweet tooth, It’Sugar opened its doors, adding a fun and vibrant touch to the mall’s offerings.

Culinary Delights and Entertainment

Food enthusiasts had much to celebrate with the opening of Rock & Roll Sushi, Natalino’s Pizza, and Tinto’s Coffee, broadening the culinary landscape of the mall.

In addition to these dining options, Mammoth Mini Golf emerged as a new entertainment venue, providing fun and leisure activities for families and individuals alike.

Personal Care and Beauty

The mall also saw the introduction of personal care services, with the opening of Maxx Hair Studio, offering stylish hair solutions.

This addition and the broader range of new stores and services underscored Bellis Fair Mall’s strategy to create a more comprehensive and multifaceted shopping environment.

These developments in 2023 signified a way to a resurgence for Bellis Fair Mall as it is adapting to changing consumer preferences and market trends.

The mall’s ability to attract a mix of local and national businesses showcased its appeal as a dynamic retail and leisure destination in Bellingham.

Reflecting on Bellis Fair Mall’s Evolution and Future Prospects

A Journey Through Time

Bellis Fair Mall’s journey, from its inception in 1988 to its current state in 2024, is a narrative of adaptation, resilience, and transformation.

The mall has navigated various retail trends, economic shifts, and ownership changes, each phase bringing challenges and opportunities.

From the early days of drawing major retailers and shoppers away from downtown Bellingham to facing financial difficulties and undergoing significant renovations, Bellis Fair has continually evolved to meet the changing needs of its community and market.

The Mall’s Current Standing

Today, Bellis Fair stands as a testament to the dynamic nature of the retail industry.

Under the new ownership of 4th Dimension Properties, the mall has embraced a strategy of diversification and modernization. Introducing a wide array of stores and services, from traditional retail to unique dining experiences and community-focused facilities, has reinvigorated the mall’s appeal.

This approach caters to the current consumer demands and positions the mall as a versatile and vibrant destination in Bellingham.

Looking Ahead

As Bellis Fair Mall looks to the future, it faces the challenge of staying relevant in an ever-evolving retail landscape. The mall’s ability to adapt and innovate will be crucial in attracting new generations of shoppers while retaining its existing customer base.

With plans for further development and potentially introducing more diverse tenants, Bellis Fair is poised to continue as Bellingham’s central hub of commerce and community interaction.

The mall’s journey, marked by resilience and adaptability, offers valuable insights into the complexities and possibilities of the retail sector.

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