Biz Buzz: Ashley Furniture to return, Firehouse Subs to open

While Ashley Furniture was something sources expected to be joining the Westgate Mall, Firehouse Subs announced arrival was a surprise and not the only new addition as DoorDash enters the restaurant delivery market for the lakes area.

Westgate Mall officials report Ashley Furniture is moving into the former Herberger’s store in Brainerd. Dispatch file photo

It looks like the Herberger’s sign with its signature rose will be leaving the Westgate Mall and a familiar name from the lakes area’s past will return to Brainerd.

The former department store’s space, complete with display cases, is currently idle in the mall. Planet Fitness took a small portion of the space when it opened in the mall in Brainerd, leaving what served as Herberger’s retail space empty in the aftermath of bankruptcy and liquidation of all Bon-Ton stores. Herberger’s announced it was closing in the spring of 2018 and shuttered its locations across the country last August.

Now, Westgate Mall reports Ashley Furniture is moving into the former Herberger’s store.

Ashley Furniture HomeStore opened in Baxter in August of 2006 with about 31 employees. The furniture store opened in a portion of what was the Gander Mountain building, as a tenant in the building. But timing wasn’t in its favor. The housing market was starting to indicate the massive economic downturn that was on the horizon. By December of 2007, the Great Recession arrived. And by late November of 2008, Ashley Furniture was closing.

At the time, Richard Kurtz, a furniture consultant from Eagan who was helping the owners through the closing process, said it was the toughest time for furniture stores across the nation he’d ever witnessed, noting anything that wasn’t a necessity for people was the first to go and that included furniture purchases. The store was down to fewer than 17 employees.


Now, Lexington Realty, owner and manager of Westgate Mall, announced a new lease was signed with Ashley HomeStore to move into the mall with more details on construction and an opening date to follow.

Scot Snitker, Lexington Realty, released a statement.

“When Herberger’s left the property due to bankruptcy it left a very large space to backfill,” Snitker wrote. “Planet Fitness was the first step and now another great company in Ashley is the next step. I want to be clear it’s not the final step we are taking. We are aware of the other challenges and are working with other potential tenants and will have more exciting announcements soon.”

Hallmark, Payless footwear and Dairy Queen were some of the more recent closings in Westgate Mall. Bette Mae’s is also closing. And there are other more long-term vacancies with dark storefronts in the mall from previous closings.

In his statement, Snitker wrote Ashley Furniture’s addition to the mall was very good news not only for the mall but for the entire community.

“Our hope, as in all our properties, is that providing more shopping opportunities for the area will not only benefit the Westgate Mall, but the local restaurants, gas stations and other retailers. We are part of the community and are working diligently to enhance the shopping experience for the area.

“It will also bring new employment opportunities to the community that were lost when Herberger’s vacated. We are excited about what the bright future holds.”

New Jersey-based Lexington Realty International became owners of the mall in 2011. Alan Retkinski and Alex Schleider formed Westgate Mall Realty Group for the $6.8 million purchase. By spring, Big Lots and Dunham’s Sports moved into the former Steve & Barry’s store and opened in the spring of 2012. Those stores were joined by specialty young adult retailer rue 21.


Firehouse Subs announced it was opening a restaurant in Baxter.

On its website, Firehouse Subs reports it is coming soon to the Northwoods Crossing development on Dellwood Drive North. The site was the former Wells Fargo Bank Branch just south of Culver’s and Menards. The development currently includes a Select Comfort Sleep Number store, which opened late last year.

The chain, now with more than 1,100 locations, including one in St. Cloud, was founded in 1994 by Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen, brothers and former firefighters. A portion of revenue goes to help firefighters with money going to the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which was founded after Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the Gulf Coast in 2005. The company reports since the foundation started it has provided more than $44 million for “equipment, training and support to hometown heroes.” This year, a portion of purchases at Firehouse Subs goes to provide life-saving equipment to first responders.

Firehouse Subs describe their offerings as sub rolls made with artisanal bread that are available in three sizes -- 4 inches, 8 inches and 12 inches.

Newsweek named Firehouse Subs No. 1 in the fast casual restaurant industry on its 2019 list of America's Best Customer Service Brands, followed by two other restaurants that have been talked about in the lakes area -- Five Guys and Panera.

DoorDash, a restaurant delivery service, also joined the lakes area this month, launching in Brainerd on July 17. Customers can order with the DoorDash app or at, choose a restaurant -- there are 10 currently on the list for the Brainerd area -- and track the delivery. Restaurants on the list include Wendy’s, Burritos California, Sakura Steakhouse, McDonald’s, El Tequila, Diamond House Chinese Restaurant, the 612 Station, CherryBerry, Sage on Laurel, and Hassies. Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings were also listed on a coupon mailed to area residents.

That continues to open the door for people who want to get a meal from an area restaurant that doesn’t offer its own delivery service. Food Dudes previously opened its delivery service in Brainerd and now has 612 Station, Baxter’s Bar & Grill, Black Bear Lodge, The Boulder Tap House, Buffalo Wild Wings, Cherry Berry, Grizzly’s, Longbranch Saloon, Papa Murphy’s, Poncho & Lefty’s, Sage on Laurel, Senor Patron, Last Turn Saloon, The Vice and Zorbaz on the Lake.

Add to that the InstaCart options with delivery of groceries and sundries from Cub Foods, Aldi, Costco and Cash Wise Liquor, and there are numerous options for those strapped for time and looking for the convenience to get their shopping done or food delivered.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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