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Vancouver Mall thinks small: Shopping center destination for small, locally owned businesses

Hub says its local tenants set it apart: ‘Our offerings are so much more unique’

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 15, 2024, 6:05am
6 Photos
Pet Wants, a franchised store owned by Jennifer Hope and Ryan Oller of Scappoose, Ore., specializes in custom-made food for dogs and cats using fresh ingredients. The couple started with a kiosk at Vancouver Mall before opening their full shop a year and a half ago.
Pet Wants, a franchised store owned by Jennifer Hope and Ryan Oller of Scappoose, Ore., specializes in custom-made food for dogs and cats using fresh ingredients. The couple started with a kiosk at Vancouver Mall before opening their full shop a year and a half ago. (Photos by James Rexroad for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

Like most shopping malls, Vancouver Mall used to be a hub for national retailers. It still is, but now it has also morphed into a retail destination for small and locally owned businesses.

“One of the things that I think makes us stand out is we do a really good job of having a diverse tenant mix with national, regional and local tenants,” said Vancouver Mall General Manager Tracy Peters.

The mall brought in about 18 new specialty local tenants last year — accounting for about 20 percent of the shopping center, Peters said.

“Our local leasing program is really strong,” she added.

Of course, the mall is also home to many national and regional retailers.

Peters said the mix is what sets the mall apart.

“Our offerings are so much more unique than most typical malls,” she said.

Jennifer Hope and her husband, Ryan Oller, joined the mall during the pandemic, when they opened a natural pet food kiosk, Pet Wants.

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“We just did really well,” Hope said. The couple decided to open a full store, which they did a year and a half ago. The store sells locally made pet toys, natural pet food and a variety of natural pet treats. The business also offers fast pet food delivery from Portland to Longview.

Hope describes the mall as vibrant.

“We’ve got a lot of natural foot traffic, so we have a lot of customers that come in that have never seen us before,” Hope said.

Peters said the influx of small businesses has happened organically as other tenants have moved out, leaving opportunities for smaller shops.

Unlike some malls that look to bring in competing shops, the management at Vancouver Mall doesn’t operate that way.

“We are very selective of who we bring in to make sure that they’re complementing our other tenants and not taking away from them,” Peters said.

Karim and Yi Al-Husseini have owned their family-friendly Cute lil Shop at various malls around the region for five years.

They’ve enjoyed their experience at Vancouver Mall, where the shop selling home goods, stationery and toys opened in autumn.

“The management in the mall is very professional,” Yi Al-Husseini said.

He said Vancouver Mall has done more to help the businesses than other malls where the couple have been tenants.

The mix of small businesses attracts customers looking for things they can’t find online, the couple said.

The mall has some other things going for it: a VIP program and accompanying lounge, such experiential tenants as Laser Blasters, no empty anchor stores and a robust calendar of events, including an auto show and comic con.

“We make it very community based,” Peters said.

Wishes, Toys, Books and Games opened in the mall just before the holidays. The family-owned regional franchise has been around for more than a decade, with several locations across Washington.

The store sells board games like Dungeons & Dragons, as well as premium toys like Green Toys not found in big-box stores, owner Ryan Searcy said.

“Our goal is to sell quality toys that last,” Searcy said.

He and his wife, Tamara, chose to open in Vancouver Mall because of its dedication to the community.

“We saw that (management) cared about their mall, and we wanted to grow with them,” Searcy said.

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