LANESBOROUGH — Leaves swirled around the Berkshire Mall on Friday, circling like the rumors that keep hovering around the future of the county's largest retail shopping complex.
Best Buy is officially closing its store in the mall at the close of business Saturday, and rumors have been rampant that the Berkshire Mall may be sold by the end of the year, and that Unistress Corp. could be a buyer.
On Thursday, a source close to the mall's owners, Strategic Asset Services LLC, a subsidiary of the Texas-based real estate holding company that owns the Berkshire Mall, said the mall is not for sale.
Those comments reiterated what the mall's owners said in September in the wake of the announcement that Best Buy, one of the mall's five anchor tenants, was not renewing its lease and would close its store on Oct. 31. The ownership said at the time it was committed to the mall and was actively searching for a new tenant to move in when Best Buy shuts its doors.
Berkshire Mall General Manager Joseph Scelsi referred all comments about the mall to the shopping complex's ownership group, which did not respond to written queries.
Unistress was emphatic in denying rumors it was planning to buy the mall, which sits just to the north of its storage yard and across Cheshire Road from the corporate headquarters.
"We have no interest in the Berkshire Mall," company President Perri Petricca said. "We've never had discussions," with the ownership group, he added.
Petricca said he's seen comments about Unistress and the mall on Facebook.
"This silliness has taken on a life of its own," he said.
Mike Sacco, who owns Peace Train Tees, a small T-shirt store in the mall, also said he had no knowledge that the mall was being sold. He is currently moving his business into a space in the mall that is more than twice the size of his current location.
But Sacco also has heard the rumors of the mall's imminent demise.
"I have customers who read it on Facebook, or say that their aunt just came from a meeting (where they said) the mall's closing," Sacco said.
As proof the current owners are staying the course, Sacco said the ownership group is currently putting a new "million dollar" roof on the shopping complex, a move that comes after Regal Cinemas put stadium-style seating at its 10 theaters this summer. Regal also recently obtained an all-alcohol license from the town of Lanesborough that will allow the chain to serve alcoholic beverages.
"They're not dummies," Sacco said, referring to the mall's ownership group.
Sacco believes speculation regarding the Berkshire Mall's demise has occurred because the mall's ownership group has released little information since buying the complex last year.
"I'm disappointed that there hasn't been any action so far," Sacco said. "But corporate deals don't happen overnight. It is a little bit frustrating because we don't get a lot of information."
At Best Buy on Friday, employees were still helping customers in the cavernous space. However, the majority of the merchandise, especially the bigger items, already has been removed. There is nothing on the store walls but empty shelves.
One semi-vacant section of the floor space was cordoned off with yellow plastic tape. A small electronic sign displaying the word "open" blinked on and off at Best Buy's entrance to the mall's parking lot.
Store management referred all inquiries to Best Buy's corporate headquarters in Minnesota. Best Buy spokeswoman Carly Charlson did not return a call seeking comment.
Another national retailer, PacSun, is planning to close its store in the mall on Dec. 27, an employee said on Friday. PacSun is short for Pacific Sunwear, a retail clothing chain based in Anaheim, Calif.
On Friday, Sacco stood in the new space that Peace Train Tees will occupy beginning on Monday and reflected on all the changes that have occurred since he started his business in the mall five years ago.
When asked why his business has succeeded in the mall while so many others have failed, Sacco referred to that conundrum as the million dollar question.
"We're doing it right," Sacco said. "We're the only ones doing what we do. Customers enjoy us, the prices are right, and the turnover is quick."
Sacco is planning to add two employees.
"I think we've found a nice niche and people enjoy it," he said.