By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Citing a shortage of tenants and rising utility costs, Havre businessman Don Vaupel is closing the Atrium Mall on March 31.
"When your overhead costs exceed your income, you have to do something drastic," Vaupel said today.
The closure will not include Office Equipment Co. and Hanson's Western Drug, which are in a separate but attached building.
Merchants in the Atrium began receiving certified letters Saturday telling them that the Atrium is closing.
"Everybody's kind of stunned," said Donna Mangold, who has owned The Hair Co. in the Atrium for 23 years.
Merchants said today they don't know what they will do with their businesses.
"It was a bit of a shock," said Shelley Welter, who operates the J.C. Penney catalog outlet with Byron Welter. They moved the outlet into the Atrium in June.
Vaupel said a shortage of tenants in the mall had kept its operation "skating on thin ice" for some time.
When increases in utility costs hit - Vaupel said his highest bill this winter has been $10,000 - it became impossible to keep it open.
"That was the crowning blow," he said.
Vaupel added that he will help the Atrium tenants find new locations for their businesses.
He said he doesn't know what will happen to the building, which is up for sale.
"It will just have to sit there until we think of something," he said. "Naturally, we don't want it to be empty. It's kind of the heart of the downtown."
The Atrium building was built to house a Buttrey department store, a chain that was founded in Havre. The building housing Western Drug and Office Equipment Co. housed a Buttrey grocery store.
Dave Shaw, who moved Stellar Computer Consulting into the Atrium two years ago, said he intends to keep the business open at another location, but it will be expensive.
All of his digital Internet service is fed through a tower on the Atrium's roof, and his customers' transceivers will have to be adjusted if the tower is moved, Shaw said.
"I don't want to guess what it's going to cost me," he said.
Shaw said he thinks he could make the adjustment for his customers quickly, possibly in 12 hours.
Sharon Pollington, who has owned Carousel in the Atrium for six years, said she's going to start looking for a new location.
"I would like to remain open if I can find a spot," she said.
Mangold said moving a salon, including adding the necessary plumbing and fixtures, can be very expensive.
"Six weeks is not a very long time for moving a business," she added.
John Davison, who owns Wolfer's Diner in the Atrium with his wife, Julie, said they'd like to reopen at another location.
"There's a lot of options to go over," he said. "I'd like to keep it open."
Davison said keeping Wolfer's open depends on the cost of moving it.
"That's kind of the bottom line, is money," he said.
He added that he doesn't hold a grudge against Vaupel.
"He's got a lot of pride in this place," Davison said. "If he had a choice, it wouldn't be closed. I know that."