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New stores are attracting shoppers
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OUTLET, BIG BOX STORES CREATED NEW MALL MILIEU
Herald Business Editor
Teen-age guys check out the latest computer games while their girlfriends peruse sweaters at another new store.
Dad chills out with a flavored coffee beneath an umbrella table while mom stayed at home to surf the mall’s web site to see when department stores will launch their monster sales.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Shenango Valley Mall.
When Prime Outlets at Grove City opened in 1994 the Hermitage mall found itself out of favor with shoppers. Although the mall’s three anchor tenants: Sears, Kaufmann’s and JC Penney remained, the rest of the complex was riddled with vacant stores from tenants who threw in the towel.
With its main concourse remaining virtually untouched since it was built in the late ‘60s, the mall seemed a bit faded compared to the sparkling outlet shops in Springfield Township. Prime Retail Inc., the outlet mall’s developer, furiously expanded the center to more than 130 stores.
Sensing the mall was getting the cold shoulder from its developer, Crown American Realty Trust, Hermitage officials trekked to Crown’s Johnstown headquarters in the mid-90s to have a heart-to-heart with executives.
City leaders urged Crown to remodel the concourse. Crown responded by completing a $3.5 million renovation in 1997. Since then Kaufmann’s expanded its store and over the past 18 months the mall has attracted such permanent tenants as:
Crown targeted attracting national retailers to entice other stores, said Nello DelGreco, the mall’s general manager.
"I think what got the ball rolling was the renovation,’’ DelGreco said. "When American Eagle was here it helped us attract Christopher Banks.’’
At 532,000 square feet, the mall is the only one in the county but competition isn’t far away. Eastwood Mall in Niles is less than 30 minutes away for most Shenango Valley shoppers while Southern Park Mall in Boardman is less than an hour’s drive. Both malls are more than twice the size of the Shenango Valley Mall.
"What we need to change is the perception you need to go to a million-square-foot mall,’’ DelGreco said.
Crown has found ways to draw Ohio residents across the border.
An attraction for the Hermitage mall is that Pennsylvania doesn’t tax clothing while Ohio assesses a 5.5 percent tax which can be hiked by each county.
"That’s a heck of a lot of savings for people,’’ DelGreco said.
To lure shoppers from Brookfield, Masury and Hubbard the mall has embarked on a direct mail campaign.
Currently the mall’s tenant space is virtually all occupied. Same store sales are 3 percent above last year’s pace through September, according to Crown.
Crown is showcasing the mall as a convenience that shoppers can get in and out quickly.
"People may not come for a full day shopping trip but they will come here on an evening,’’ said Joseph Lipo, marketing assistant for the mall.
But the mall still lacks the flash of a full-service restaurant under its roof. Crown acknowledges it’s the top complaint among stores and consumers.
"We’re constantly in negotiations to bring a restaurant in here,’’ DelGreco said.
The mall’s smaller size plus a slew of restaurants within a five minute drive make it harder to attract a restaurant to the mall, he said. A Wendy’s restaurant now being built in the mall’s parking lot could be completed by year end.
Getting to the next level could be a challenge for Crown.
Over the past decade big box stores like Wal-Mart, Big Kmart and Lowe’s have settled in Hermitage. Rumors continue to swirl that Target, Home Depot and Sam’s Club are looking to open stores in Hermitage.
But DelGreco believes new stores should be a plus.
"Bring them in,’’ he said. "Let’s make Hermitage a destination point. The more choices you bring in to the shopper the further away you can draw from.’’
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‘Mall’ this over
Here are some holiday facts about United States’ malls:
Source: The International Council of Shopping Centers
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