Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Economic Advisory Council

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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