Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
SPENCER ó Just a little more than two years after its much-anticipated grand opening, Grand Central has closed its doors for good.
Grand Central, which at its height served as an emporium for 89 vendors, closed May 31.
The emporium will be open only for shop owners to remove their merchandise through June.
Daniel Almazan, the owner of the business, said it was a lack of customers that prompted the move.
“This was simply a business decision,” Almazan said. “We tried our best. We just couldn’t keep the traffic, especially for the vendors.”
Local business and civic leaders had hoped that Grand Central would prove an economic boost to the community. The emporium was located in Spencer Plaza at 460 S. Salisbury Ave.
But troubles plagued the operation from the outset.
In January 2006, Spencer Plaza LLC, represented by Karen and Henry Alexander, and their son, Almazan, allowed Boone-based Emporium USA to vacate its lease less than a year after opening in Spencer Shoppes.
The longtime strip shopping center underwent a massive refurbishing prior to opening as Emporium USA. Located across from the N.C. Transportation Museum, it was hoped that the emporium would attract customers from across the Southeast.The dreams were never realized.
Disappointed that Emporium USA never really caught a retail fire, the Alexanders took control and put their son in charge.
Almazan said the lack of a strong economy and record gas prices contributed to the demise of Grand Central. He said the business attempted several different means of generating more traffic, but with only limited success.
“Our problem was, we weren’t selling anything that people absolutely had to have,” Almazan said. “With the economy and gas the way they are, we couldn’t pull enough traffic to this community.”
He said that while Grand Central didn’t achieve the success that he and his family had hoped, that doesn’t mean the same will prove true for another business venture that might choose to occupy the property.
Almazan noted that while Grand Central struggled, other businesses in the shopping center ó Queen City Audio-Video-Appliances, Family Dollar and dentist Dr. Kenneth Washko ó flourished.
He said he hopes that the next business to occupy the Grand Central property will do equally well.
“Just because we didn’t make it doesn’t mean another business can’t,” Almazan said.
He said his family owns the 54,000-square-foot shopping center with the exception of the offices occupied by Washko.
Almazan said several other business owners have expressed an interest in purchasing the property, but his family isn’t interested in selling unless the fit seems a good one for the town.
“We’re going to take as long as we need to sell,” Almazan said.
He said Grand Central occupied 20,000 square feet of the shopping center. The business was divided into small shops that individual owners leased.
Available for sale at Grand Central was everything from jewelry to antiques to furniture.
Spencer Mayor Alicia Bean said she hated to hear that Grand Central was closing, especially considering the money and time that the Alexanders and Almazan invested in refurbishing the property.
“They definitely went in there optimistic,” Bean said. “I thought it was a great concept. It’s just a very unfortunate situation.”
Bean said she received phone calls earlier this week from a number of the vendors at Grand Central wanting to know what was happening there.
She said she felt that one of the problems with the business was the huge asphalt parking lot that remains in front of Grand Central.
In recent years, there has been much talk of refurbishing the parking lot much as the business itself was refurbished.
Bean said town leaders had tried to figure a way to get a grant to complete the work, but never had success with the venture.
“The bottom line is, the government won’t give money for something that doesn’t belong to you,” she said.
Bean said there had been discussion of the owners of Grand Central leasing the parking lot to the town in hopes of getting grant money. But she said that attempt also failed.
“I’m terribly disappointed,” Bean said.
Bob Wright, president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, didn’t know of the demise of Grand Central until a reporter informed him of as much Tuesday afternoon.
Wright said he was aware of all the work that Karen Alexander, in particular, had invested in the project.
“She and her family have done a tremendous job,” Wright said. “My understanding is that they could just never make a go of it. You hate it for them.”
Attempts to reach Karen Alexander late Tuesday were unsuccessful.
In a news release faxed to the Post, Almazan wrote, “After careful consideration of our upcoming lease renewal and our challenges faced generating sales for our vendors, we have come to the decision that closing the Emporium is the necessary course of action.”
According to the release, during the month of June, the business will be open to vendors only from 3 to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays. The business will be open to vendors by appointment on Saturdays.
Vendors wishing to schedule a time to retrieve merchandise are asked to call 704-633-5599.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or