The Nittany Mall has spent the last year reinventing itself and a Dunham’s Sports store, set to open on March 11, is a key component of the makeover.
“We would like to revive the Nittany Mall to what it used to be, which was a community atmosphere,” said Polly Welch, the Nittany Mall’s general manager. “Dunham’s is going to help us achieve that.”
Since the recession that hit in 2007 and did not officially end until 2009, the future of American shopping malls has become apparent.
In 2006, just before spending decreased for the first time in about 20 years, 94 percent of the country’s 1,200 malls were considered healthy, with vacancy rates of 10 percent or less. But today, that percentage has dropped to about 80 percent, according to CoStar Group, a real estate data provider.
As the earnings gap has widened since the recession, with wealthy households continuing to accrue a larger share of the nation’s collective income, working- and middle-class malls have suffered the most. These malls are disappearing as their anchor stores, such as Macy’s, Sears, Kmart and J.C. Penney, continue to close.
When the J.C. Penney in the Nittany Mall shut its doors last April, after announcing it would close about 40 locations nationwide, it left one of the mall’s larger spaces — a 63,000-square-foot space — vacant.
Once anchor stores close it puts pressure on the mall’s other retail entities, Business Insider reported. And, with the recent boom in retail space across the country, it can be hard for mall administration to find tenants to fill these large spaces.
Fortunately for the Nittany Mall, it signed a contract with Dunham’s just a few weeks after J.C. Penney closed. Welch said it is hard to lease a space that size and said she was surprised with how quickly they were able to finalize negotiations with Dunham’s.
While construction delays pushed back the opening from the end of 2015 to March 2016, renovations are now complete and the store is in the process of stocking its shelves, which can take between four to six weeks. Construction started in October 2015 and the store will have its grand opening at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 11.
“The whole process to get zoning and code through can be somewhat long,” Welch said.
Welch said the Nittany Mall is working hard to change the public’s perception of the mall by offering community programs and providing a space to showcase the area’s talent. For example, the mall will host the 27th annual Senior Health and Lifestyle Expo scheduled for Thursday, May 19.
Dunham’s fits well into that revival scheme, as it plans on offering money-saving programs for local sports teams and companies, Welch said.
Welch also said that the Dick’s Sporting Goods located in the shopping area off of Colonnade Boulevard should not impact sales at the Dunham’s store.
“Dick’s is a little on the higher end,” she said. “This is a store everyone can shop at.”
The Nittany Mall has also recently welcomed other tenants, including the Centre Region Senior Center, which will occupy a 7,075-square-foot space once renovations are complete. The Senior Center moved out of its 4,728-square-foot location below the Fraser Street Garage in September to a temporary location in the Nittany Mall.
The Senior Center’s move has brought more traffic to both the mall and the center. The number of participants at the center has doubled since its move, according to Welch.
Niki Tourscher, the program manager at the agency that oversees the Senior Center, said, “We see a lot more people just stopping in to check us out and a lot of those people who have stopped in are now participants.”