PEABODY — Like every Black Friday, the challenge for the Northshore Mall is getting shoppers searching for deals in the door. 

This year, there's an added wrinkle — the 1.6 million-square-foot mall is also undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation.

One solution? Add more doors. And that's exactly what's happening here, as the mall unveils a new entrance facing Andover Street, just about where the former Sears building used to be.

The new entrance, which was still a work in progress last week, sits between Legal Sea Foods and Chipotle Mexican Grill. To help shoppers find it, the mall plans to put up a 30-foot Christmas tree out front. 

Mall manager Mark Whiting said the new entrance, like the one added last year by the food court, will give customers more access to the building. 

"We won't have to be reliant on Sears any longer," he said. "We'll have now full access to this very large parking lot for our own entry."

Much of the space where Sears used to be has been filled in, graded and paved to create more parking, Whiting said. The mall is opening 179 new parking spots between Legal Sea Foods and Macy's, with four spots designated for veterans, and four spots for expectant mothers. Visitors will again be able to drive between Legal Sea Foods and Macy's.

With the changes, the mall hopes to tap into the estimated 114.6 million shoppers expected to head out on Black Friday nationwide, according to the National Retail Federation. 

Whiting said early indications show that the weather will be in the mall's favor. 

"It's going to be a little gloomy, which will hopefully move a lot of our shoppers indoors, which will be great," he said. 

There are challenges. A National Retail Federation survey says it expects online and non-store sales to increase in the range of 11% to 14%.

Whiting also pointed out that because Thanksgiving falls at the end of November, this year's holiday shopping season is about a week shorter than last year's.

Still, the National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to grow between 3.8% and 4.2% this year, with an estimated 165.3 million people shopping from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.

In Massachusetts, retailers expect sales to be up 3% from last year. Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said "mom and pop" stores make up the primary demographic of that survey. Large national chains don't break out their sales figures state-to-state, he said.

Hurst, a Beverly resident, says brick and mortar stores still have an advantage.

"The one edge that stores have is impulse buys over the online setting," Hurst said.

Changes at the mall

The Northshore Mall is a work in progress this holiday season. Peabody Building Department records show construction costs for the mall property since major renovations began in 2017 have reached $84 million. That translates into $1.7 million in permit fees for the city.

The most visible change is the 114,000-square-foot, three-story Life Time athletic health club, which is taking shape in the parking lot in front of where the former Sears building was before it was demolished earlier this year. 

Whiting said this project is being constructed by Life Time and not the mall, the latter being owned by Simon Property Group.

Natalie Bushaw, senior director of public relations and internal communications for Life Time, said construction is scheduled to wrap up by the end of 2020. 

The mall is also feverishly working to complete its outdoor Promenade of shops and restaurants along the Route 114 side, where there will eventually be new shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. Whiting said it's too early to announce any new tenants.

For those looking to put an electric vehicle under the tree, Tesla could open at the former Sears Auto Center before the end of the year or shortly thereafter, Whiting said.  

"If you drive to the one side you will see they have installed all their electric charging stations," he said. 

The mall also worked with the city to upgrade the electric service along Route 114 so it can support Life Time, Tesla, and a new Chase Bank branch being built. 

Despite all the construction, the mall has plenty of parking, about 7,800 spaces, Whiting said. 

"Even on the busiest day of the year, which for us is always the Saturday before Christmas, we offer plenty of capacity for customers to come and park and shop and enjoy convenience," Whiting said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. 

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