By Tim Leeds
Don Vaupel has taken back ownership of the Atrium Shopping Mall and Western Drug.
A deed assigning ownership from Richard and Doris Hanson to Vaupel was notarized Dec. 31. The Hansons had signed an agreement to purchase the property from Vaupel on July 10, 2000.
Vaupel said the transactions involved are not yet complete, and referred all questions to Dick Bohn at the Koefod Agency. Bohn declined to comment, as did the Hansons.
Bill Evans, owner of Evans Optical, said the key to keeping the mall open will be filling more of its vacant spots.
The mall, located in the old Buttrey department store building between Second and Third streets and Second and Third avenues, houses about 19 businesses and offices and about 12 vacant locations.
Evans recently purchased Bing N Bob's Sports Shop on Third Street, with the intent of eventually moving the optical lab there and having both the sports store and the lab under one roof. But that won't happen in the near future, if at all, and the lab will remain in the Atrium for now, he said.
"It just remains to see how and when and if we can do it," he said.
Sarah Brown, owner of Universal Healing Arts in the Atrium, said the mall has been a good location for her since she opened there two years ago.
She said she has heard rumors about the future of the mall, but hasn't heard anything official.
"It's all a guessing game," she said. "I'm not going to worry about it."
The struggling economy in the area makes it difficult to say how many new businesses might open in the Atrium, said Sharon Pollington, owner of Carousel in the Atrium. But her business is fairly good, especially since she moved from the basement to the main level, she said.
"You've got to be optimistic," Pollington said.
She said Vaupel seems optimistic about the Atrium's future. If he can get more businesses in and increase foot traffic, all of the businesses will benefit, she said.
Evans said his business also has been successful in the Atrium.
"We have people in here all the time getting glasses," he said.
He thinks the downtown has had much more traffic in recent years. Part of that is the ease of having so many businesses so close together. People who work downtown will walk over on their lunch hour to pick up their glasses, he said.
The people of Havre need to stick together to try to keep the stores running and improve the economy, Evans said. Many people think they can get a better deal or find things they can't find in Havre, which often isn't true, he said."We lose so many people to Great Falls," he said.
Part of the reason the Evanses bought Bing N Bob's was to try to maintain and improve the business environment, Evans said. Eventually moving both businesses under one roof, if possible, would strengthen both businesses, he said.
"We want to keep our business environment as good as we can," Evans said.