Monroeville Mall reinvents itself to attract more visitors
Patricia Jones remembers when she could ice skate at the Monroeville Mall.
“All the kids of my generation would get dropped off there while the mothers went shopping,” Jones said. “It was a win-win for everyone.”
The rink called the Ice Palace now is a food court, and that is one example of how the Monroeville Mall, which opened in 1969, has changed with the times. The mall offers about 150 stores and restaurants, and largely has rebounded in recent years from the recession that emptied spaces at many retail centers.
Across the U.S., traditional shopping malls — once the centerpiece of the holiday shopping season — are fighting an uphill battle against other retailers.
More customers have turned to the convenience of online shopping or choose roadside strip malls over larger, enclosed malls, said Audrey Guskey, an associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University.
The malls’ best bet is to move beyond retail: They should attract customers looking for entertainment, she said.
“Malls have to offer the social opportunities,” Guskey said.
The addition of a 12-screen Cinemark movie theater one year ago in the Monroeville Mall’s former J.C. Penney department store was part of a reshuffling that started in 2011.
That’s when CBL & Associates Properties, the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company that owns the mall, bought the former Boscov’s department store, which closed in 2008.
Since then, CBL has leased 320,000 feet of space at the more than 1.3-million-square-foot complex.
J.C. Penney moved into the upper floor of the former Boscov’s, which originally housed Kaufmann’s department store, and Dick’s Sporting Goods moved from the mall’s annex to the level below J.C. Penney.
“That anchor space was dark for so long that having two well-performing retailers at that end of the mall certainly increased traffic,” CBL spokeswoman Stacey Keating said.
Gary Hodgkins, store leader at the Monroeville J.C. Penney, agreed.
“Dick’s moving under us was a good thing,” Hodgkins said. “It helped solidify this end of the mall.”
If Jim Bentley is any judge, the layout to which Keating referred — using larger “anchors” to draw customers to a mall — works even when customers shop at stores outside mall property.
Bentley, 20, of Turtle Creek was headed to nearby Dunham’s for new gloves and a hat when he dropped by the GameStop in the mall.
He wasn’t sure he was going to buy anything, but he picked up a new game for the Xbox system at the Chalfant Borough Fire Department, where he volunteers.
“We all sit up there and mouth off to each other while playing ‘Call of Duty’ or ‘Halo,’” Bentley said.
Guskey said malls need to mix in department stores with boutiques and other choices that aren’t run-of-the-mill.
“Stores coming and going — that’s a good thing. You want to keep things fresh and trendy,” Guskey said.
Vacancies at Monroeville Mall have varied. There were six vacant storefronts on Tuesday. In September 2011, there were nine vacant storefronts. In February 2009, when retailers closed stores due to the recession, there were about 25 vacant spaces.
Keating said mall space that opened up allowed the trendy Forever 21 to expand and Teavana, a store geared to tea drinkers, to open. It’s one of the mall’s 26 restaurant or food offerings.
But Dolores Price, 71, of Penn Hills is nostalgic for an older regional mainstay.
“Kaufmann’s was my favorite,” she said. “The other department stores cater to younger customers.”
Instead, Price and her husband, Jerry, were on their way to eat at Red Robin and then visit Ulta, which sells beauty products.
These stores are part of The District, an 80,000-square foot cluster of shops completed in the early 2000s.
Patricia Jones, who lives in Squirrel Hill, said a few stores such as Chico’s draw her to the Monroeville Mall, but she stays closer to home when she can.
“They have more big-box stores at The Waterfront,” she said, referring to the Homestead retail complex, “but they also have many of the same stores.”
Gideon Bradshaw is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2369 or [email protected].