Belk pulling out of struggling Gwinnett Place

Belk department store is closing at Gwinnett Place mall, dealing the Duluth shopping center a blow as it struggles to attract new tenants and grow its customer base.

The retailer’s impending departure will leave Sears, JC Penney and Macy’s as major anchors at the Pleasant Hill Road mall, which also has a Mega Mart food and apparel center.

“The decision to close the store was made after carefully evaluating our business plans, competitive position and the financial performance of the store,” Belk spokeswoman Jessica Graham told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She said the store will close in August.

Officials at Gwinnett Place declined to comment.

Belk also has Gwinnett locations in Buford and Norcross, but Graham said there were “no plans for other changes.”

The county’s first mall has suffered in recent years as the Mall of Georgia and Sugarloaf Mills, formerly Discover Mills, have siphoned customers. Gwinnett Place also has to compete with a growing number of open-air shopping alternatives.

C-III Asset Management, a company that helps operate distressed properties, including Gwinnett Place, said last fall that the mall eventually will be sold. The mall had been owned by Simon Property Group before a Merrill Lynch-created commercial mortgage-backed security took ownership last August.

Last year, Jim Bieri, a partner with Michigan’s Stokas Bieri Real Estate, suggested Gwinnett Place could lose stores because national tenants like Belk that had a relationship with Simon Property would no longer feel the need to stick around when their leases are up.

“The likelihood of losing a few more stores is high,” Bieri said at the time. Although the mall has all of its anchors today, it remains more than 50 percent empty and has found it challenging attracting tenants. A third of Gwinnett Place’s leases will be up for renewal within the next year and a half, according to data provided by Trepp.