Realtor leases former J.C. Penney space for proposed Berkshire Mall Emporium

The former JC Penney space at the Berkshire Mall may soon reopen as the Berkshire Emporium, a retail space similar to a consignment shop where vendors can sell vintage goods.

LANESBOROUGH A darkened corner of the struggling Berkshire Mall may again be bustling with commerce.

A Ludlow entrepreneur has signed a lease to open the Berkshire Mall Emporium in the space formally occupied by J.C. Penney, which closed its local store last summer.

The emporium would feature multiple dealers who would offer vintage items for sale in the space, which is over 60,000 square feet.

Manny Gonzalez, who is a realtor, said he has signed a lease to use the space, and is working with the town of Lanesborough to determine if he needs to follow any town procedures before he can open.

"I have the keys and I'm working with the Building Department right now," Gonzalez told The Eagle in a telephone interview. He declined to reveal the term of the lease.

Jaime Ruiz, the mall's general manager, said the emporium is "still in the beginning stages. Nothing is set yet."

The establishment of businesses like emporiums featuring vintage items is one of the methods being used to revitalize large struggling retail shopping complexes, which have lost multiple tenants due to the changes in national retail trends. The Berkshire Mall, owned by Kohan Retail Investment Group of Great Neck, N.Y., has lost four of its five anchor stores since October 2015. Kohan paid $3.5 million for the 720,000-square-foot complex in September 2016.

Gonzalez said the business model is similar to a consignment shop where vendors provide items that they are interested in selling to management, which then provides space to display them in the store. The vendors don't do the actual selling to customers; they pay a monthly consignment fee for their space, Gonzalez said.

He has been recruiting for potential vendors on social media, touting the emporium as "New England's largest indoor/year round multi-dealer shop."

"This is surely a great opportunity for dealers to showcase their items in the Berkshires," he stated in a Facebook post.

Products may include vintage collector's items like old metal signs from the 1930s — "people just have a connection to them," Gonzalez said — and "primitives," rustic vintage table items like wooden salad bowls that are often offered on sites like eBay.

Gonzalez has supplied Ruiz with a video of a story reported by a Buffalo, N.Y., television station that features a similar business, the Niagara Emporium, in the Eastern Hills Mall in Williamsville, N.Y. The business has over 200 vendors operating in 60,000 square feet of retail space that formally housed a Macy's department store.

Dealers have already joined the Berkshire Mall Emporium and picked their spaces, but more are being sought.

"We're hoping to have a good mixture out there," Gonzalez said.

He isn't sure how many vendors the former J.C. Penney spot can hold.

"I haven't even thought of a number," Gonzalez said. "It should be a good amount."

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.