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Nittany Mall Working to Appeal to Bigger Audience, New Fitness Store in the Works

by on January 28, 2015 6:00 AM

Nittany Mall General Manager Polly Welch wants to set the record straight.

Even though she’s sad to see J. C. Penny close in April – leaving one of the mall’s anchor spots in a temporary limbo – she looks forward to a bright future for the State College shopping mall.

“We are strong,” Welch says. “J. C. Penney nationally may be struggling, but the Nittany Mall is not.”

Welch says she can’t announce what business may end up replacing J. C. Penney just yet, but negotiations are well underway with several regional and national chains. More immediately, Welch is excited by the conclusion of a different set of negotiations.

“I can happily report that Hibbet Sports has officially signed off an agreement with us,” Welch says. “We’re still working on getting permits from the township, but they will be opening in the very near future.”

Welch says the owners of the Nittany Mall have been in talks with Hibbet ever since the mall changed hands in April. She says the store will fill a demand not currently met by the mall’s current tenants, which she hopes will help the mall attract a wider range of customers.

According to a Hibbet Sports news release, the national chain deals in athletic footwear, athletic apparel, team athletic equipment and related merchandise. The chain has been expanding in recent years, and currently operates over 950 stores across the country. 

Hibbet Sports will be the latest of a handful of new business that have opened since the mall entered its new ownership. Welch says that another recent opening – the Planet Fitness gym, which opened in December – has seen great success.

“Business has been great,” Planet Fitness manager Josh Beard says. “We have no complaints. We’ve been very busy, but that’s a good problem to have.”

POLL: What would you like to see in the Nittany Mall?

Department store
32%
Electronics store
3%
More restaurants
21%
Clothing store
27%
Music store
4%
More temporary attractions
1%
Book store
5%
Art or specialty gift stores
6%

Beard says he’s read national reports that shopping centers with indoor gyms have significantly bolstered the business of their host malls. While he admits he doesn’t have much time to get out into the rest of the mall, Beard hopes Planet Fitness can attract new customers to the Nittany Mall.

“I’d like to hope that we are helping out and drawing more traffic this way,” Beard says. “I like seeing other businesses succeed where maybe they wouldn’t do as well if we weren’t around.” 

Welch says its too early to judge exactly how much new traffic Planet Fitness is generating, but adds that the 24-7 gym is nearly always full – which she thinks will translate to increasing business for the mall as the gym becomes more established. 

The addition of Hibbet Sports and Planet Fitness are part of an attempt to make the Nittany Mall “more diverse.” Welch says that each time the mall seeks to find a new tenant, she wants to appeal to customers who haven’t spent much time at the mall before.

“We’re trying to create an eclectic group of stores that people in this area want to shop at,” Welch says. “It’s important to appeal to Penn State students and the 20-somethings, but we have young parents and older citizens that we want to serve just as well.”

Welch says the Nittany Mall is looking to bring in more temporary businesses like those free standing kiosks, which are a big success during the holidays. A bungee jumping station inside the mall was particularly popular, and a demonstration of the potential that Welch sees at the mall. 

The Nittany Mall also plans to build on its community outreach efforts. There's already an upcoming charity antique festival the first weekend in February. Welch hopes this will be the first of numerous events and performances at the mall in the coming year.

“We want to bring in other things that have never been here before, so that people are always encouraged to check back in with us,” Welch says.

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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