A customer walks into JC Penny in Presque Isle on Monday. The store is still operating at regular business hours despite the mall's closure. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Aroostook Centre Mall’s Monday closure due to the owner’s unpaid bills is forcing some tenants to pay their own utilities and others to find alternative locations.

General Manager Bruce Brigman said Sunday the mall would close because the owner, Kohan Retail Investment Group, had not paid electricity and water bills and those services would be shut off. The mall’s main entrances were locked Monday with Brigman’s letter about the closure posted on the doors.

The group, which owns around 42 malls around the country, obtained the struggling mall in 2019. Brigman came on board with plans to reinvigorate the shopping center with local businesses. Several have come and gone. Monday’s closure left some tenants scrambling to pay their own utilities in order to stay open and others in limbo as they figure out their next steps.

Brigman told the Bangor Daily News on Monday that the owner is open to selling the mall.

“We’re in talks with local buyers, and hopefully one of them will come on board,” he said.

City officials are in close contact with Brigman to figure out what’s next and why Kohan Retail Investment Group isn’t paying their electricity and water bills, said Martin Puckett, Presque Isle city manager.

Harbor Freight is open and will pay its own utilities, Sales Manager David Bell said.

VIP Tires and Service will also pay its water and sewer, and continue its regular business hours, store manager Kendall Howett said.

Children’s retailer Bumble B Stockroom will see how things play out. If the mall doesn’t reopen, they will look for another location, said owner Catrina Hazelwood.

JCPenney has been at the mall since it opened and had shoppers in the store Monday. Store personnel deferred to corporate leaders, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cars were parked outside Dollar Tree, Harbor Freight and VIP.

The mall also houses nonprofit organizations, including Freedom Church, Homeless Services of Aroostook and the United Way of Aroostook. 

The United Way had already planned to exit the mall when Executive Director Sarah Duncan received Brigman’s letter.

“We had made the decision to find other space a few weeks ago, and we signed a lease that would be starting March 1,” Duncan said.

The organization’s move came a few days earlier than expected, and staff scrambled to move out of the mall Sunday. The organization’s new location is at 769 Main St. in Presque Isle, next to H&R Block.

Clients who have March appointments with the Aroostook Ca$h Coalition, a tax service provided by United Way, should go to the Aroostook County Action Program’s 771 Main St. location next to Walmart, Duncan said.

Wintergreen Arts Center, a nonprofit that hosts youth and adult arts sessions and other activities, received Brigman’s letter around noon on Sunday and has found a temporary home at the Sargent Family Community Center until the mall situation is resolved.

Presque Isle Parks and Rec Director Gene Cronin reached out to Wintergreen to offer space at the community center for Under the Willow Tree, an art program for preschoolers that is held 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Thursday.

“We have a long relationship with the rec center,” said Dottie Hutchins, Wintergreen’s executive director. “Since 2010 Wintergreen and Presque Isle Parks and Rec have partnered, and we provide the arts and crafts for the city.”

The arts center will hold Youth Art Month activities at the center on Friday.

Wintergreen had signed a five-year lease with the mall in 2020.

Home improvement store Lowe’s isn’t attached to the mall and is unaffected by the closure.

The Aroostook Centre Mall opened in November 1993 with four anchor stores: KMart, JCPenney, Sears and Portland-based department store Porteous. JCPenney is the only remaining anchor. The former Kmart and Porteous/Staples are empty, as is the larger part of the Sears store not filled by VIP and Harbor Freight.

Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the number of malls Kohan Retail Investment Group owns.