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Branching Out: Two Nittany Mall Businesses Are Expanding

by and on March 29, 2019 11:22 AM

The Nittany Mall has seen a lot of changes over the past few years, and while many of the changes have been with the loss of traditional retail stores, two locations in the mall are showing that the facility can be a place of growth.  

The Emporium Market opened up shop in January 2018 and quickly drew a loyal customers following with their local products ranging from soaps to artwork and local food. It has been a labor of love for partners K.C. Peck and Aimee Conklin and on March 23 they opened their new mall location, Emporium Eats, which is going to focus on locally sourced food as much as possible.

Meanwhile Planet Fitness is showing their dedication to their large space in the mall with a planned 8,200-square-foot expansion.

All this shows how the mall remains a vital location for the right business, said Peck, even as other stores around the mall close.

“There is an unfortunate image that people have of the mall, but our experience here has been quite different than what people think,” said Peck. “You know they talk about how it is dead, but in reality we get new people in here every day. And although there is not the roar that used to be present, we still have a good base of regular customers and a nice trickle from the surrounding area, because you know State College is still a destination for the surrounding communities.”

And he said the mall is a destination too, even with more retail shopping being done online these days. He said people still need a location to spend their free time, and he sees the Nittany Mall as that, with a mix of stores and entertainment options and lifestyle offerings like Planet Fitness and the Centre Dance Academy now located in the mall.

“Just because people are not getting their clothes at the retail stores, they still have evenings and weekends off and I believe that it will transition to a place for shopping into a place for activities,” said Peck.

Conklin cited the new children’s entertainment store K&B Inflatable’s Please, which provides bounce houses and other fun activities for children, and the upcoming Rampage Room, which will provide cathartic relief for customers with their break rooms.

The Rampage Room is hoping to be up and running by June, said co-owner Nicole Snyder. Rampage Room will be located directly across from Emporium Eats and will feature break rooms and virtual reality devices. There will also be a virtual reality escape room where up to four players can work at different types of escape room experiences.

These types of new business are keeping the mall vital and show hope for its future. It makes a place that Peck and Conklin want to invest in.

“We are optimistic that this place is not going away, and if it is going to be here there might as well be cool stuff in it to do and good food to eat. I think people do want to shop, they do want to shop local, they support area businesses and that is all we can hope for,” said Conklin.

K.C. Peck and Aimee Conklin have found success with Emporium Market at the Nittany Mall and are now branching out with a restaurant at the mall called Emporium Eats. It opened March 23. Photo by Vincent Corso/The Gazette

For the couple branching out to open a restaurant, their reach was partially self-motivated for their desire to have top-notch local coffee as well as a wider variety of food options at the mall. While they both enjoy the food available at the mall now, they are looking to bring different options. Peck said they will start simple, focusing on coffee and “doing it right,” with locally roasted and cold brew coffee, along with a simple breakfast and lunch menu. Peck said food options will start with parfaits, soups and salads and will eventually expand to add grilled sandwiches.

Conklin said they plan to incorporate locally sourced food as much as possible and they will focus on being environmentally friendly with compostable utensils and packaging.

Planet Fitness has seen its client numbers grow since it opened at the mall four years ago. With the low membership fee, 24/7 hours and central location between State College and Bellefonte, it is easy to see why, said General Manager Autumn Rosenberg.

She said the new space will be home to some new weight resistance machines and will allow them to spread out to create more space for people to work out. She said the mall location makes it a viable spot for the gym and is a good spot for business to grow.

“I am super excited about the expansion and the extra space it will give people as they get started on their fitness journey,” said Rosenberg.

Of course, two of the anchor stores in the mall remain empty, where Sears and Bon Ton used to be located. Nittany Gaming LLC signed a lease agreement with the mall last April, but has not announced any plans for the site. No Category 4 gaming licenses have been secured by Nittany Gaming and there are no Category 4 auctions scheduled by the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission at this time.

So while traditional stores like Payless Shoes, Gymboree and Mathew’s Hallmark Shop have all closed their doors or are in the process of closing, joining a list of businesses that have closed in the past few years, other non-traditional stores are finding a way to make the mall work for them, and hopefully allow the mall to remain the destination that it used to be.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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