Businesses like Hibbett Sports and Bed, Bath and Beyond, will still conduct their business online and Dillard's will remain open, as it is a separate entity from the mall.
“It’s a stressful day today,” said a Taekwondo student as he loaded a U-Haul truck with equipment from Sr. Master Anderson’s Taekwondo Family Center, located in Pines Mall.
The Pines Mall in Pine Bluff is being handed back over to the bank, according Judy Vu, the 7-year mall owner.
Vu, who said the mall has seen a decline in revenue the last four years, confirmed the mall is in foreclosure.
Tenants had until Sunday to move out. A walk through the mall gave the presence of a ghost town with most tenants already gone and electricity turned off throughout most of the 650,000 square feet building.
Anderson’s martial arts school has been located in the Pines Mall going on almost four years.
“It’s been really nice here,” said Anderson.
With approximately 50 students enrolled in his school, Anderson who has been teaching taekwondo for 54 years hopes to start brand new in a different location by the end of July.
“We’ve been looking at a spot in Jefferson Square,” said Anderson. “It looks promising and I’m happy to possibly move to that location and start over.”
Businesses like Hibbett Sports and Bed, Bath and Beyond, will still conduct their business online and Dillard’s will remain open, as it is a separate entity from the mall.
Vu said the main reasons that she is turning the mall over to the banks is because many of her tenants do not pay her.
“I cannot support myself. I don’t have any money to pay the bills. Electric behind,” said Vu. “I could not stay anymore and the movie theatre, they do not want to pay me.”
Back in January, Vu told The Pine Bluff Commercial that the cost of electricity at Saracen Cinema 8 amounted to more than $7,000 a month, all of which she pays with no help from the owners.
She went on to say that her agreement with Steven Mays Jr and Okorie Ezieme, who bought the theater in July of 2019, included them paying 37% of their gross sales. However, they didn’t report their income. Court documents also showed that they were past due on rent of $2, 141.50 for November 2019 and December 2019 and Vu claims she still hasn’t received a payment since then.
Vu said she was excited to go into business with Mays because she felt with his father being on city council, life would be restored back into the mall.
“I trusted Mays,” said Vu. “It was his business partner who harass me from California.”
Vu is facing a lawsuit against the movie theater, Saracen Cinema 8, and is ordered to appear in court Friday, June 19 or face a fine and possible jail time.
“His partner made many violations, changed mall key,” said Vu. “I changed back, he sue me.”
On Thursday, May 7 an email from Ezieme, obtained by the Pine Bluff Commercial from Vu, requested the movie theater keys from Vu.
The letter read as follows:
On April 20, 2020 and without prior notice you changed the public access entrance locks to the Mall and Movie Theater. Despite our request same day that you provide us with new keys, you have failed to do so. Your actions constitute a breach.
As you know, the lock-down due to Covid-19 pandemic has been lifted and the Governor has ordered that we can reopen effective May 4, 2020. Unfortunately as of May 4, 2020, you have continued to lock us out and our customers, vendors, staff, etc, have been unable to come in to the Movie Theater.
We hereby demand you unlock the public access entrance to the Mall & Movie Theater and also provide us the new keys to the Mall & Movie Theater public access entrance as the old keys in our possession will no longer open the entrance doors in question.
We are looking forward to your prompt response.
Vu said no one is allowed to have a key to the mall to prevent theft, stating Ezieme wanted a key to come in and out the mall when he wanted and to open the theater at any time.
“I open the door for them,” said Vu. “When the mall opens, the theater opens. When the mall closes, the theater closes. That is the rule of the mall.”
With over $1 million in expenses and allegations of nonpayment from most of her tenants, Vu said she was only receiving $15,000 a month from a few loyal tenants.
Pines Cinema 8 reopened as Saracen Cinema 8 in Sept. 2019 after parts of the 900-seat theater were renovated.
During its temporary two-month closure, Mays and Ezieme enlisted help to remove an infestation of roaches along with making aisles inside one theater handicap accessible, adding extra lighting, replacing movie screens with digital projectors, getting ceiling leaks fixed and remodeling the concession stand.
In April 2019, the mall was on the auction block following a lawsuit claiming the owners didn't pay for over $18,000 worth of contract work.
In January, Vu served the theater owners an eviction notice.
Vu also claims COVID-19 had a financial impact on the mall, stating the mall closed down for three months.
Previously reported, Saracen Cinema 8 claimed that the mall did not meet certain conditions and maintenance of the property, which would be necessary for proper licensing permits.
In an interview with KARK news, Mays said he spent thousands renovating the theater and COVID-19 was not the reason for the foreclosure. Instead Mays suggests it was a result of years of bad management.
Vu said she trusts people she does business with and believes she has been taken advantage of over the years because of her kindness and her sometimes language barrier and understanding.
In the past Vu had contemplated shutting down the theater to keep the mall open. Now both will have to close down for good.
Vu is hopeful someone will restore life back into a building that once thrived with a delightful shopping experience.
A statement released to KARK from Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington stated while she was saddened by the mall’s closure, she will remain positive, hoping to attract investors to the type of multi-use development the space could become.
“I love the mayor. I respect her,” said Vu. “I think someone will save the mall.”