It’s a difficult time at Simply Wine, where owner Sue Rydquist says Rimrock Mall is forcing her to leave after three years.
Rydquist said the mall’s owners, Starwood Retail Partners, have been unwilling to extend her lease after it expired, even though business at the Billings wine retail shop and bistro on 24th Street West outside the main mall has been doing well.
“They wanted a national brand. This frontage is too valuable,” said Rydquist, who first opened her business in 2005.
Mall officials deny they’re chasing out local businesses but declined to discuss the details of Simply Wine’s lease, calling it “confidential.”
“Rimrock Mall is always looking for strong local tenants; 23 percent of our stores and kiosks are locally owned,” Rimrock spokesman Tom Krause said in a written response to The Gazette.
Rydquist said her struggles began last fall when Rimrock Mall was sold to Chicago-based Starwood, an affiliate of a private investment firm that manages more than $23 billion in assets worldwide.
Rydquist said she had been working last year with Rimrock’s previous owner, The Macerich Co., because she knew her three-year lease would expire this February. However, once the mall changed hands, those talks stopped, Rydquist said.
“We couldn’t get a straight answer. Every time we talked to them, it was something different,” she said.
Rydquist said contractors told her that an Apple store is moving into the space. Mall officials would not confirm that, and a call to Apple’s media help line was not returned.
Simply Wine has been operating month-to-month since the lease expired. The store will close July 27 and is holding a 25-percent-off liquidation sale.
Rydquist said she will close for at least 60 days because she’ll need to get a new liquor license. She said she’s had discussions with officials at both Shiloh Crossing on the West End and West Park Promenade on Grand Avenue but hasn’t decided where to move.
Because the lease expired, Rydquist acknowledged that mall officials were within their rights to let her go. However, business has been “booming,” and Rydquist said she had been keeping up with her lease payments.
“One would expect that they would want to keep me,” she said.
The 10,000-square-foot building will soon have another vacancy when bankrupt Coldwater Creek closes this summer. Mall officials said they’ve had discussions with prospective local and national tenants but declined to name any. Other businesses in the 10,000-square-foot building are Starbucks, Chico’s and Paris Nails and Spa.
It’s been an emotionally exhausting time for Rydquist, who left her career as a mortgage banker to pursue her wine passion and open the store. She first opened in 2005 at 517 S. 24th St. W. across from Barnes & Noble, and her husband designed and built the shelves inside.
At the request of other business owners, she moved into the 2,200-square-foot space in front of the mall in 2011. She has since added the bistro and wine-tasting room, which she said created a gathering place for customers.
But the last few months have been an “ego blow,” Rydquist said, largely because she’s devoted so much of her life to the business.
“It’s … me,” she said, eyes welling up as she gestured at the bottles, shelves and bistro inside.