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Best Buy plans to build store at Walden Galleria near Sears

Best Buy, the nation's No. 1 electronics chains, will take up residence in the Walden Galleria later this year, kicking off what's expected to a long-awaited expansion blitz at the regional shopping center.

The Minnesota-based retail chain, which currently has only one store in the Buffalo market, has filed a request for a building permit with the Town of Cheektowaga seeking to build a 50,000-square-foot store on the north end of the Galleria, near Sears.

The $2 million project would see the big box retailer take over space on the mall's lower level currently occupied by The Limited shops and extending out onto what is now a surface parking area.

The Limited will relocate to small quarters.

Galleria General Manager James Soos confirmed Best Buy's plans and said it will bring a new group of shoppers to the mall.

"It brings an exciting new merchandise category to the Galleria. We believe Best Buy is the best when it comes to consumer electronics and are very excited to have them here," Soos said.

The store is expected to open this summer.

This is actually the second time Best Buy has signaled an interest in setting up shop at the Galleria. In January 2003, the electronics giant said it planned to take over the AMC movie theater space on the upper level of the mall, off the food court. That plan was part of a larger mall renovation concept that did not move forward.

Town sources said Thursday that Best Buy's building permit application is the first step in an ambitious dining and entertainment component to the nearly 17-year-old shopping destination.

As The Buffalo News reported in April 2005, the Pyramid Corp., which owns the mall, is working on a sweeping update of the north end of the retail complex that is expected to include new theaters, multiple restaurants, a newly created "indoor boulevard" of shops, and a new parking deck.

Another hint of things that Pyramid's plans are starting to gel was Barnes & Noble's January announcement that it will join the mall lineup with a nearly 50,000-square-foot store. Town sources said the large-format book and media store will be located on two levels, taking a portion of the existing AMC cinema space.

Bon-Ton's exit from the mall last month has opened the way for that two-level retail space to be tapped for a portion of the ambitious retail makeover.

The project, which is said to have a price tag in excess of $50 million, is expected to be formally announced in time for the 2006 construction season.

Best Buy, which entered the Buffalo market in November 2000 with a store in Boulevard Consumer Square, off Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, has proven to be a strong competitor despite having just one location. A late 2005 consumer survey by Scarborough Reports found 27 percent of local consumers had shopped Best Buy in the past 12 months, ranking it the area's No. 4 electronics seller.

In that survey, Wal-Mart topped the list, with 37 percent, followed by Circuit City, 36 percent and Target, at 31 percent. Those competitors all have multiple stores in the Buffalo market.

Benderson Development Corp. has been working to locate a Best Buy in the Town of Hamburg. The developer was eyeing a site on Mile Strip Road, but dropped the effort in January due to difficulties getting the parcel rezoned for commercial use.

Best Buy spokesman Jay Musolf said Buffalo is one of many New York markets in which the retailer is looking to increase its reach.

"We're definitely interested in adding stores. We're looking for opportunities to add convenient, unique and fun shopping experiences where we see demand for our products," Musolf said.

The company's U.S. stable of stores now stands at 741 units.

Soos said Pyramid has a strong relationship with Best Buy. The retailer has stores in several of Pyramid's malls, including its Carousel Mall in Syracuse and Crossgates in Albany.

Best Buy is not the first electronics retailer to tenant the Galleria. In its early years, the ill-fated Silo chain was part of the line-up. The mall lost that store in 1999 when its parent company folded.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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