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Local cutlery shop ousted by mall to bring larger national retailer

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Excalibur Cutlery & Gifts sales manager Derrick Graham has worked at the store for 22 years. The shop closes its doors this month after Washington Square mall refused to renegotiate the company's lease in favor of a larger national retailer.One of Washington Square mall’s longest-lasting tenants is closing its doors this month, but it isn’t going willingly — or quietly.

Excalibur Cutlery & Gifts has been located at the mall for 30 years. But at the end of this month, the small shop will close its doors for good, after Washington Square denied the company a new lease.

The lease for the store was coming to an end in January, said the company’s owner John Jost. When company officials reached out to the mall’s owner, Macerich Co., to begin talks about renewing the lease, they were told no negotiation would be possible, Jost said. The mall had already leased the space to a new national retailer months earlier.

The small knife shop, which offers a variety of cutlery and hunting knives, would need to vacate the premises by Jan. 31.

“It was utterly devastating,” said Derrick Graham, Excalibur’s regional sales manager who has run the Washington Square store for 22 years.

“We hear it all the time from people saying that their dad brought them in when they were a kid, and now they are bringing their own kids in here,” Graham said.

Excalibur operates nine stores in Oregon and Washington, each located in major malls along Interstate 5.

Graham said he doesn’t blame the mall for wanting to bring in big name stores that can make lots of money, but said that given the store’s long history with the mall, it could and should have been handled better.

“For us, it is not that they leased our space out from under us. It is their prerogative, and they can lease it out to whomever they want to,” Graham said. “But giving the minimal amount of notice and no consideration to renegotiate for this space or find another? They just said, ‘No, you’re out at the end of January.’”

‘Greed in action’

One upset employee at the store took to Facebook, sharing the shop’s plight with friends.

The story has spread like wildfire across social media, being shared more than 2,000 times on the site.

Jost decided to post a message of his own.

“It’s hard to believe that after 30 years of loyalty to the mall, we would be treated in this most unprofessional manner,” Jost wrote. “Macerich’s actions will significantly impact our local employees and our ability to stay in business long-term. Macerich is not local. They have corporate offices in Arizona, Texas, New York and California. This is yet another example of greed in action, and large corporations pushing local businesses out.”

For its part, Washington Square was under no obligation to give earlier notice. However, Graham said that after signing a new tenant months earlier, it seemed a stab in the back to not mention the deal until the last possible moment.

“They knew they had already leased it five or six months ago, but not one person ever came by to mention that to us?” Graham asked. “Maybe if we had been notified six months ago, we could have offered a counter offer or something, and not have to put kids out of work.”

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Excalibur Cutlery & Gifts sales manager Derrick Graham said he has seen an outpouring of support for the community after news spread that the store was closing.Washington Square officials wouldn’t answer questions from The Times about the situation, but did send a written statement.

“As you know, the retail environment is constantly evolving, and we are always exploring new and innovative concepts,” wrote Rebecca Lesley, a spokeswoman for the mall. “Washington Square strives to provide the perfect blend of local and regional stores, unique to Oregon retailers and national brands, as well as community and one-of-kind events and entertainment. As one of the top retail malls in the U.S., we continue to look for ways to keep the retail line-up fresh and current to reflect the preferences of our shoppers.”

Expecting a remodel

Graham began working at Excalibur as a sales clerk during Christmas rush 28 years ago, taking over the Washington Square shop in 1991. Graham said he expected to have to make some changes to the shop as part of renegotiating the lease.

“We were expecting to have to remodel or move to another space in the mall and give the store a different look because the mall has changed,” he said.

Changed is right. All around the shop, department stores with glass doors and modern designs gleam under the florescent lights.

Excalibur, in contrast, stands out with its oak paneled walls and a large, life-size knight standing guard out front.

“The mall has become more and more generic and more vanilla,” Graham said. “Every year — the last 10 or 15 years I’ve been here — I’ve watched one local business go out and one more national store come in to where if you were at a mall in Minnesota or Chicago or San Francisco, you would see all the same stores. It has lost its local flavor.”

The mall made headlines last year by bringing in national retailers such as H&M and Tesla electric cars, as well as saying goodbye to longtime tenant Barnes & Noble.

No. 1 store

To make the situation worse, Graham said, the Washington Square shop is the most profitable store in the company.

“It’s a good mall with great traffic, and that translates to great sales,” Graham said.

Shutting down the company’s most profitable store will have a lasting impact, he added. “This is a huge hit to our company. They just knocked out our No. 1 volume store. We have to see how that affects the volumes going forward.”

The Washington Square store has five employees and doubles its team during the holidays. Graham said as many employees as possible will be shuffled around, moving to one of three other Portland-area Excalibur stores. “But you are still taking four stores and combining them into three stores — that means somebody leaves.”

While a closing date has not yet been set, the Washington Square shop will likely be shuttered the week of Jan. 21.

“We want people to know that we are not leaving voluntarily, and we are not abandoning our customer base that we have spent the last 30 years developing,” Graham said.

Excalibur operates three other stores in the Portland area at Lloyd Center, Clackamas Town Center and Westfield Vancouver Mall.

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