State of Retail in State College: Westerly Parkway
Editor’s note: This is the second part of an ongoing series entitled “State of Retail in State College.” From struggling areas to the more bustling shopping centers, we’ll examine the main retail sections of State College, with an eye on openings, closings, and the attendant challenges of the retail business. Look for the column every other week, and keep us updated on what you want to see. As always, we appreciate your feedback.
by Matthew Groves
Westerly Parkway Plaza, located just off Atherton Street along – you guessed it - Westerly Parkway, and next to the high school, has long been a shopping center with local flavor and tradition.
Over the past year, however, there have been changes. A State College tradition has left the plaza, while two new stores have opened.
And plans have been announced for a large new neighborhood – full of potential customers – to be developed just a short walk away.
Westerly Parkway lost Hi-Way Pizza (Earlier Coverage: Hi-Way Pizza Closes Westerly Location), which at its plaza location had been a mainstay in the State College community. The restaurant was owned by Dante’s Restaurant, Inc., which owns many bars and eateries in town, including another Hi-Way Pizza on North Atherton. As has happened elsewhere, the Westerly Parkway Hi-Way Pizza couldn’t compete with the growth in other areas in town.
TWO NEW BUSINESSES
In May 2010, Big Eats Food Company closed and a new restaurant, called My Thai, opened at the same location. My Thai is under the same management as Fuji & Garden, which is also located in the Westerly Parkway Plaza.
In the past year the plaza also saw the arrival of Pete’s Used Furniture, which opened on July 15. The store buys and sells used furniture, and is at a very convenient location for the many surrounding apartment complexes.
Rebecca Anderson, who works at the store, said the store is already having an impact on the community. “We’ve been doing really good, especially for a first-year start-up,” Anderson said.
Pete’s Used Furniture is taking advantage of a good location. The shopping center features multiple stores that complement one other.
“There’s not only used here” in the store, Anderson said. “There’s St. Vincent’s Thrift Store; there’s Goodwill. It’s kind of like a nice little arena” of used goods stores.
Pete’s provides affordable furniture to both permanent residents and students.
“In August and January we did get a little bit of the (Penn State) kids and their parents swarming in on us,” she said. “But the business that’s keeping us busy day-to-day has been from local townspeople.”
Since State College Area High School is next to the shopping center, you would think the plaza is a popular hangout spot before and after school. Or maybe even a place to go to when skipping class. The plaza store managers say that isn’t the case.
Weis Markets strongly enforces a no-loitering policy, while the manager at Rite-Aid, Susan Mitchell, said her store gets business from an entirely different set of customers.
“We don’t see too many high school students,” Mitchell said. “We see more foot traffic from the apartment buildings.”
BOY SCOUT CARNIVAL
A major event hosted at Westerly Parkway Plaza is the annual Boy Scout Carnival, which features rides, food and games. The carnival takes place in early May and benefits Boy Scout Troop 380 of Boalsburg. It occupies the vacant lot between Rite-Aid Pharmacy and the former Hi-Way Pizza site.
Even though the carnival brings more sales to many of the businesses, it does have its drawbacks.
Mitchell said Rite-Aid has an increase in crime as a result of the carnival. “Shoplifting increases that week,” she said. “Business increases as well, but it is offset some by shoplifting.”
The circular-shaped First National Bank, located just off of Westerly Parkway, is also no stranger to crime, having been robbed in 2010. (Earlier Coverage: Police: Robber Strikes First National Bank On Westerly Parkway)
Westerly Parkway could see a potentially large customer base taking up residence nearby.
An Athens, Ga., developer has a contract to buy about 22 undeveloped acres located directly behind the shopping center along Waupelani Drive. It would include land in both the Borough of State College and College
Pending zoning approvals, the developer, Landmark Properties, plans to build a higher-end student housing community called The Retreat.
Some businesses at Westerly Parkway Plaza are anticipating the neighborhood to make a large impact since many students would be living within walking distance.
Anderson said she thinks Pete‘s Used and other stores at Westerly Parkway Plaza will see an increase in business.
“Any time you are putting that many more people into the area, the local businesses are the ones who benefit from it,” she said. “We don’t have a corporate advertising budget behind us to advertise everywhere every day, but you put people close to us, and it does wonders.”
Steve Moreira of Wings Over Happy Valley said the increase in nearby residents won’t necessarily improve his business. He knows it won’t hurt. Wings Over Happy Valley focuses more on delivery orders and less on foot traffic, so his restaurant may already be serving those potential new neighborhood residents. They just happen to currently live somewhere else in town.
“Those kids live somewhere right now,” he said. “If there are 45,000 students that live in town right now, there will be 45,000 students that live in town when it gets built. We find that we deliver no matter how close they are or how far away they are.”
Moreira said that Wings Over Happy Valley takes deliveries to the apartment complexes close to Westerly Parkway Plaza, like Parkway Plaza and Executive House. Moreira said that a lot of his customers don’t even know where Wings Over is located, because the carry-out place does so well with delivery orders.