It might be the end of an era for the Discount Mall in Little Village.
For the last two years, Discount Mall has been in the middle of a battle between its vendors and property owner Novak Development. Now, half of the mall’s vendors have until the end of this month to pack up and leave.
Sarfraz Satti is one of those vendors closing shop.
“We don’t have any choice,” Satti said. “If we don’t have a choice, we have to leave. They gave us a notice that we have to go.”
Satti is one of 67 vendors who received a letter explaining they have until March 26 to sell their merchandise.
“I’m going to end here,” Satti said. “That’s it. I’m going to retire, and I’m going to go to Pakistan for four to five months. Then I’ll come back, and we’ll see.”
The Discount Mall building is operated by two separate companies: Pilsen Plaza Corporation and PK Mall.
The owner of Pilsen Plaza Corporation recently signed a contract with Novak Development Corporation; the new lease runs for 10 years with three five-year options, for a potential total of 25 years. As for the other side, PK Mall manager Marta Torres said owner Edmund Kim couldn’t come to an agreement with Novak.
Read More: Discount Mall in Little Village to Continue Operations as Long-Term Deal Signed
“We were trying to do what was right for vendors, as well as for the management,” Torres said. “When they didn’t agree with the owner’s offer, we had no choice but to decide to leave.”
The Discount Mall is known to offer below-market rentals and short-term agreements with little to no credit history. Torres said the contract Novak was offering the owner of PK Mall was not sustainable for its vendors.
“It was very high,” Torres said, “and we knew our vendors were going to have a hard time paying it, especially during this recession.”
There are still questions about what the contract looks like for the Discount Mall operator who renewed his lease with Novak. Torres said there have been talks of the Pilsen Plaza Corporation moving to their side.
“The other side signed,” Torres said, “and they are going to come to our side, and this place is not big enough to accommodate all the vendors. And it’s up to him to see if he is going to be able to keep some of them.”
Juan Zarate, who works with his daughter, is one of the vendors hoping to stay. They’ve been operating their pet store inside the Discount Mall since 1989.
“We feel really bad,” daughter Sofia Zarate said. “We are going to try to personally go talk to the manager of the other side to see if he accepts us. He has said before that he will only be taking those who rent with him already.”
In February, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) sat down with Novak’s team and city officials to discuss the plan for the plaza.
“We discussed that there’s enough room here to accommodate everybody,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “They acknowledged that, but they said, ‘Sorry, we already signed a contract.’ Contracts can change all the time. I wasn’t born yesterday.”
Sigcho-Lopez is now asking the city to step in and help the vendors facing displacement. He said if Novak can’t come back with solutions for all the vendors, he will be taking legal action.
“Novak can redesign what they have currently to accommodate the existing businesses and welcome the new ones and change the contract that they signed,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
A newly released rendering shows what Little Village Plaza is expected to look like after renovations. Novak said it plans on repairing the front of the Discount Mall, which includes the roof, and the plaza parking lot with an underground storm water system.
Torres has been a manager for PK Mall for 30 years. She has watched people grow into business owners and said it’s going to be hard to end such a big chapter of her life.
“The Discount Mall is not going to stay … the Discount Mall is leaving,” Torres said. “Discount Mall belongs to Mr. Kim — the name belongs to him — so actually the Discount Mall is the one that is leaving.”
For now, vendors leasing from PK Mall have no other choice but to run final sales.
As for a name change to Discount Mall, a Novak spokesperson said that matter is between the two mall operators.
WTTW News was told the side of the mall housing the vendors who are leaving will be leased to other tenants. There is no word yet on who or what will take over that space.
Renovations are expected to start this spring.