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Retail Rebound?

By Monica Van Dobeneck
Patriot News


HARRISBURG, Pa., June 3, 2010 - After suffering losses over the past few years, the Capital City Mall is adding stores and continues to have a loyal shopper base, an official says.

The Capital City Mall has added two retail stores and a kiosk in the past few weeks, and will be getting another store and kiosk by the summer.

For mall management, the new stores are welcome news, particularly as consumer confidence grows after an economic downturn that saw many people cut back on shopping.

Two clothing retailers have opened recently: Crazy 8, which caters to children, and Strawberry, for teens and young adults. A kiosk for Clearwire, an Internet service-provider, has recently opened.

Men’s Warehouse is scheduled to open a clothing store this summer, along with a Capital City News kiosk for newspapers, lottery tickets and other sundries.

Stores at the Lower Allen Twp. mall that have closed in the past couple of years were mostly due to corporate-wide decisions unrelated to the mall, marketing director Jillian Fikkert said.

That includes B. Moss, which declared bankruptcy in 2008; the Disney Store, which has closed more than 100 outlets; and Borders Express, which decided to close 500 of its mall-based book stores across the country.

The mall has been lucky in filling spaces quickly, Fikkert said. Only the former Disney Store, Borders Express and a small space in the food court are still available, and said she is confident they will be filled by next holiday season.

“We have a loyal shopper base, and we are focusing on trying to drive people from the East Shore to the West. We have broadened our advertising,” she said.

A website that carries coupons and information on sales at each of the stores also helps, she said. The new stores, in line with the still tepid economy, tend to appeal more to bargain hunters.

“People are crazy for coupons right now,” she said.

Fikkert said the mall suffered some losses in the past couple of years during the recession.

Also hurting sales was the construction on Route 15. The PennDOT roadwork turned the mall’s parking lots into construction zones and sometimes made it difficult for people to find the mall entrance.

When The Patriot-News asked readers in December, “Has road work deterred you from shopping” in the Capital City Mall, 64 percent replied “yes.”

Since the exit was completed in 2009, it’s easier than ever to find the mall, Fikkert said, and when construction is complete, it will be even better. A 2006 renovation had already positioned the mall well to attract shoppers, she said.

“Time and circumstances have changed,” she said.

Crazy 8 and Strawberry are good matches for the mall’s character, Fikkert said. Both appeal to young people looking for a bargain, she said.

Crazy 8 is owned by the same company that owns Gymboree, with a store nearby in the mall, and also caters to children.

The prices at Crazy 8 are lower, and the styles are a little “edgier,” said shopper Brian Stockard of Mechanicsburg, who had just bought a tank top for his 9-month-old daughter, Emma, for $7.50.

Stockard said he and his family go to the mall three or four times a month, but “buying anything outside the category of necessity has dwindled” since the economic downturn.

Isabella LaBar, district manager for Crazy 8, said parents tend to spend money on their children even when they cut back for themselves.

Shari Watson of Camp Hill, who was shopping with her daughter Ashley, 10, agreed. She said the prices at Crazy 8 were reasonable. Ashley pointed to an orange-and-pink shirt that caught her eye and had a price of $9.49.

A similar shirt at Gymboree was priced $22.75.

“You look for bargains,” Shari Watson said.

The Strawberry store caters to teens and young adults. Store manager Connie Thompson said the company has opened six new Strawberry stories in Pennsylvania in the past six months. Another store also owned by A & E Stores, Bolton’s, which catered to professional women, did not do as well at the Capital City Mall and has closed, she said.

“Women are holding back a little,” Fikkert said. “Teens and young adults are freer with their money. They don’t have to worry about mortgages or their children.”

Tyeisha White of Steelton said the poor economy has benefited people like herself who still have jobs, because stores are offering better prices. She said she works at Manor Care nursing home and recently got her LPN degree.

“When the economy started going down, we got great sales,” she said. “I didn’t cut back on shopping.”

Statistics from the U.S. Commerce Department show retail sales slowly growing along with consumer confidence, although the job market will probably have a lot to do with future growth.

“People are moving slowly,” Fikker said. “They’re not making extravagant purchases. They’re not running into the stores with their credit cards like they used to …but at the same time, they don’t feel as guilty about buying a new outfit.”

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