Rick Hill waited through 11 months of delays. Bruce Griffin waited for nine months. Keven Rush checked off calendar days for almost two years.
But eventually, one by one, each of these Payson business owners finally got to complete their relocations into the Rim Country Mall the 75,000-square-foot shopping center that's been under construction for two years inside the old Wal-Mart building on Highway 260 and Manzanita Drive.
The project's prime moving force, George Harrison, owner of C & H Properties in Scottsdale, had originally envisioned Payson's only indoor shopping complex as home to a four-screen movie theater. But when the Sawmill Theatres six-plex opened in November of 2000, he scuttled that plan and set his sights on existing local businesses.
The first to sign a tenant lease was Rush, owner of the Payson Athletic Club, who planned to move in as soon as possible. That was in mid-2000. Rush finally opened the doors to his new full-service fitness center Tuesday, March 26, 2002.
"Oh, man, hallelujah," Rush said days before that event. "Thank God, it's finally over."
Rush was referring to the myriad of financial woes and construction delays that had plagued Harrison's retail vision and that hadn't been completely worked out even when Sears became the mall's first operational store as well as its anchor business.
Sears owner Bruce Griffin remembers the date of his grand opening: Sept. 1, 2001, 10 days before the world changed and shopping was moved to the bottom of most priority lists.
"If you take out 9/11, it would have been a good year," Griffin said in March. "But that would have hit us no matter where we were."
Despite his long wait for the mall to be store-ready, followed by his long wait for consumers to return to their normal shopping patterns, Griffin is thrilled to be part of the Rim Country Mall.
"I can tell you our traffic is much, much better here, no question." he said. "Things are definitely looking better than they did at our old location (on the northeast corner of the Beeline Highway and East Bonita Street).
"Maybe not quite what I'd hoped for yet, but I certainly have no regrets."
Looking forward to the next 12 months, Griffin said he would like to see "as many tenants come in as possible.
"We didn't come in here with the idea that everybody else would make our business ... but certainly, when you have more traffic, it helps everybody."
Pine Country Outfitters
Even now, with just five tenants, the shopper traffic at Rim Country Mall is better than what Rick Hill was seeing when his business, Pine Country Outfitters, was located in the Swiss Village.
"We can't believe the difference in the traffic over here, considering how few stores are open here," said Hill, who opened the newest edition of his hunting, archery and sporting goods store Thanksgiving week of 2001. "It's a broader range of shoppers than we used to get, too ... and things are progressively getting better. I am very happy with the understanding that we're going to get a lot more shops in here."
Hill was considerably less happy during his 11-month wait to get into the mall.
"It was frustrating, because we were sitting over at the Swiss Village shops kind of dying on the vine," he said. "Retail-wise over there, it was going backward instead of forward. But now I feel we're going 100-percent forward."
Danette Harrison, who co-owns the specialty coffee shop Payson Perk with her husband, Ed said her six-month delay to get into the mall was "no big deal. We weren't in any big hurry to open, so we just went with the flow."
Since Payson Perk opened in late October, Harrison said, "Everything has been going very well. The mall is coming along nicely; they're getting it booked with tenants, which will bring us more traffic; and the people who come in are so faithful and supportive and nice. Once all the stores are in, I think we'll do really well."
"We're very happy with this location. It's so cool, because it is so unique to Payson," said Karen Kolb, co-owner of Allstate Insurance with her mother, Dee Wesley.
Kolb became a mall tenant in early March of 2002, and is already so pleased with the facility that she's preparing to open an adjacent store Darary's Gifts, offering Gold Canyon candles, picture frames and other quality items in September.
Kolb acknowledges that a shopping mall isn't where one would normally go to purchase auto, home, boat, life or business insurance.
"We didn't have a lot of exposure in our old office," she said, "and we were pretty hard to find. But now, we've got the marquee on Highway 260, and when people ask for directions, all we have to say is, 'We're in the new Rim Country Mall, directly behind Sears.' It's great. And before, we never had a lot of walk-in traffic but now we have people coming in and asking for quotes."
Payson Athletic Club
"It was frustrating, but it was a lesson for me about the whole process of working with a new building," Keven Rush said of the two years it took to move the Payson Athletic Club across Highway 260 and into the Rim Country Mall. "It was definitely a lesson in grace and patience. But the nice thing is, once we're all done, we'll have a really nice product one that was definitely worth waiting for."
At the time Rush spoke, he was still anticipating the delivery of some brand-new exercise equipment and health-and-fitness-center amenities he had ordered back when he first signed his mall lease.
"We had hoped to be able to open the doors and say, 'This is everything, look at how cool this is,'" he said. "After all this time, I'm still waiting for everything else to fall into place."
Rush's enthusiasm for the year ahead, however, remains undimmed.
"We'll finally get the chance to implement a lot of programs and services we've been wanting to provide, but haven't had the room for. Also, the new facility not only looks good, it's much more functional than what we had; it will be much more accommodating for everyone. All of us are so excited. All our waiting is about to pay off."