Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Supporting our Local Shops and Restaurants — ‘Shop Small’ this Holiday Shopping Season

Reading about the expansion planned for King of Prussia Mall, you would not know there is anything wrong with the local economy.

As the King of Prussia Plaza and the Court developed over the years, it seemed like a waste of valuable property to have the two sections of the mall connected by an open breezeway. I don’t know about you, but I would drive to either the Plaza or the Court side of the mall, but I don’t recall ever walking outside from one side to the other.

The planned expansion will enclose the covered walkway, link together the mall’s two wings and add 40 additional stores. The 140,000 square foot addition will now let shoppers walk from one end of the mall to the other without going outside.

This latest expansion news is separate from the addition currently being built at the site of the old Wanamaker’s department store. That redevelopment two-story project scheduled for completion by the end of 2012, will add 122,000 square feet of retail space with 10 new stores.

Several of the news stories report that the King of Prussia Mall is the largest shopping mall in theUnited Statesat nearly 3 million feet of retail space. In fact, I thought that the KOP mall was second in size to the Mall of Americas in Minneapolis. A quick check on Wikipedia indicates that King of Prussia Mall is the largest in square feet of shopping space (Mall of Americas is second is square footage) but that Mall of Americas is first in number of stores (522+) and that King of Prussia Mall is second at 400+ stores. Not sure how many annual visitors Mall of Americas can claim but King of Prussia Mall website is boasting they attract more than 25 million visitors per year.

Beyond the King of Prussia Mall expansion plans, the surrounding mall area has exploded in development in the last few years, Seasons 52, Home Depot, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Maggiano’s, Crate & Barrel, Costco, 16-screen movie and IMAX theater, etc. Wegmans atKing of PrussiaonGulph scheduled to open in spring 2012.

In the shadow of the King of Prussia Mall and Valley Forge National Historic Park, the Valley Forge Casino Resort is preparing for a March opening. Counting down to the casino opening, Pennsylvania’s latest gambling hall is finding itself in a desperate situation … they still need 300 dealers. Demand has outstripped supply and by January, management is preparing for an outreach program to New Jersey and Florida.

All of this is very exciting news for the local economy but I find myself reflecting on this past Saturday, which was the 2nd annual Small Business Saturday. There was a major national advertising campaign by American Express and others to ‘Shop Small’ by encouraging us to visit our favorite local stores and help to fuel the economy — I hope that many of our community’s small businesses benefited from the advertising campaign.

I recently drove from Bryn Mawr to Malvern; purposely taking the Lancaster Ave. route. Although there are pockets of growth and development along Route 30 (most notably in the Wayne area), there was an overwhelming number of empty storefronts and leasing signs. Even when the economy was healthy, small businesses in this area struggled to compete and find their niche against the many offerings of the King of Prussia Mall. So although the explosion and development in King of Prussia is wonderful for the job market and local economy, how is it possible for the small businesses along Rt. 30 to survive? The commercial giants like Costco, Home Depot and Wal-Mart can weather the economic challenges but how long cam small businesses realistically survive? The large mega-retail discount chains have developed such strong competitive advantages that threaten the ‘Main Streets’ and sadly the ‘Mom and Pop’ stores are becoming a dying breed.

Some of the communities around us have done a better job of embracing and supporting the main street shopping formula – we see it in Media, Wayne, Phoenixville,West Chesterand in near-by Malvern. Visionaries created a purpose for people to visit these communities and then a reason for the visitors to return over and over, but what about Tredyffrin.

Last February, when I suggested an Economic Development Committee, the purpose was to find ways to support our local small business community and explore ways to help fill empty storefronts. Many people pointed out there are limitations on our local government to provide incentives, zoning options, etc. for development. A few weeks ago, the supervisors announced the members of the economic advisory council and certainly, this is a good sign. However, I am guessing that the members will likely focus on area commercial real estate, vacant office buildings and the large empty box stores.

Small businesses are competing against the chain stores and the shopping malls this holiday shopping season. Pumping money into the local economy this holiday shopping season will help keep their doors open so let’s all make a commitment to support our independent stores and restaurants. Besides who needs ToysRUs when we have the Toy Department at the Paoli Hardware Center!

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  1. Wonder if any of the mall plans involve a play area for kids? It boggles my mind that a mall of this size has nothing, aside from a couple of areas with tacky pay-to-ride toys. I’d say they could double the amount of time moms spend in the mall with some sort of play area by a food court/coffee shop that many major malls have, but maybe they don’t need the money.

    1. Roberta, That is a really good point and no, I didn’t hear anything about areas for kids in the King of Prussia Mall expansion plans. Now there’s a huge difference with KOP and Mall of Americas — the Minneapolis mall has a very kid-friendly theme park with loads of rides including a roller coaster, a sea life aquarium, miniature golf course, flight simulator, Legoland, movie theaters, etc. My husband is from Minneapolis :)

      Some may argue that you are using valuable retail space to entertain the kids but my guess is that the formula has paid off big time for Mall of Americas! Gosh, even Exton Mall has a small playground for kids.

    2. Roberta and Pattye

      With the cost per square foot to lease space, an amusement center is not profitable. Mall of the Americas has an indoor amusement park, but also has weather people do not tolerate in the holiday season. They need to have a way to bring people there — and hope they shop as well. King of Prussia is a destination shopping site — people don’t come there except to shop and eat. If you wanted to entertain your kids, would King of Prussia be the place you would take them? Wouldn’t the traffic discourage you? No one spends money while their kids are playing….so you reduce the value of the adjacent space.

      There are malls all over the US that have places for kids to play — but in many cases it is to draw customers. Additionally, I think per capita there are more litigious people here in the east and the cost/benefit to a play area is questionable. Ikea had a ball room when my kids were little — (do they still?) and people were horrified that I would let my kids play there –” all those germs. “

  2. I love the theme of this posting, Pattye!

    Terra Culture, behind the Van Cleve Collection in Paoli, is my favorite shop anywhere and features many fairly traded and individual artist-produced gifts. I recommend CM readers check it out: they’re sure to find something unique for everyone on their gift list.

    And one last note: Anchor stores are a significant feature in shopping center and downtown economic health. It’s my belief that another commerical giant, Wegmans, is threatening the economic viability of Paoli by drawing shoppers away from the Acme. I know, I know. People love Wegmans. But Wegmans doesn’t love downtowns–never locates there. Sure, Acme needs to step up its game, and keep it up, but if we lose the Acme it will be extremely detrimental to all of Paoli’s businesses. I’ve made a conscious choice to only shop at Acme in support of our local merchants. I hope others will too!

    1. Terra Culture is one of those hidden jewels in Paoli — but once you find it, you’ll be back! Love their slogan, “Making a Difference One Gift at a Time”.

      And Van Cleve Collection is the perfect place for prom dresses, mother-of-the bride dresses and now includes a special wedding pavilion. Fashionista Extaordinaire Deborah Van Cleve Phelps has owned this Paoli store for over 25 years. But beyond being a small business owner, Deborah is always the first one to support local fundraisers and causes!

  3. I was once a toy buyer for a major department store, and we ultimately closed the department company wide because we insulted people by charging “keystone” markups on products. We had sales people and gift wrap and more, and we were fine for birthday presents….but not for holiday. I remember a Mattel toy that COST $5.00 from Mattel. We did not have adequate volume so we had to buy our toys from a “jobber” and we paid $6.25. We sold it for $10. Toys R Us sold it for $5.99 on sale, and $7.00 retail. I still remember a woman coming in angry that she had paid $10 for an item and seen an advertisement for it for $5.99 . Now — that was 25 years ago and it was in Highland Park TX — but our company found we experienced more bad will from people who felt “ripped off” by our pricing. I don’t think “small businesses” can afford to compete with large retailers. They need niche businesses and extra service. It’s another example of why I think the economy will take awhile to rebound. The same article about King of Prussia pointed out the demogrpahics of this community — suffice to say we have lots of people who are not the 99%. So while the rich stay rich, small business owners cannot afford to pay the wages to get people to work out here in their stores.

    Long way to say I agree that we need to support small businesses, but we also need to reinvent our economy, and I don’t know how to do that. I posted here earlier that I had ordered something from The Apple Store — it arrived directly from China. Not only is it not manufactured here, it’s not even touched here. “That’s Logistics”…..we have to be able to afford the products small businesses produce…and if they try to sell the same goods, we are invariably going to use ads and a shopping bot to find it cheaper.


  4. We should all try to support local business and we should also all look for “Made in America”.

  5. Not sure where I read this, so don’t quote me, but studies show that…

    – If you buy from a locally-owned business, approx. 68% of your purchase is returned to local community in payroll taxes, etc., etc.

    – If you buy from a chain located in the community, that number drops to something like 40%

    – Internet shopping = 0%.

    Shop local owned, not just local!

  6. The Toy Store above Paoli Hardware is a rare treat from another era. It seems like a store that George Bailey would have visited in Its A Wonderful Life, or Norman Rockwell would have painted in one of his iconic pictures.

    I am just glad that it is still there after all those years. It truly is a unique place to buy toys that kids and kids at heart will truly love.

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