HUMMELS WHARF — For Khaalid Muhammad and Christopher Arnan, opening businesses at the Susquehanna Valley Mall is something they said was a “no brainer.”
Muhammad, owner of Mitch Kicks a sneaker store that opened Nov. 1, said the mall was the place he wanted to be.
“This is a mall,” he said. “People say it is dead but it isn’t. There are people always walking around and I have had my business since 2014 working online and through social media but always wanted a store of my own. Now I got one.”
Muhammad and others are hoping the upcoming holiday season can offer a restart for the mall, which opened in 1978.
Over the past several years the Snyder County mall, like many across the nation, has struggled to keep stores in place. The Susquehanna Valley Mall has lost anchors Bon-Ton, Sears and J.C. Penney. Penney’s was the first to go in 2015, followed by Sears in 2017 and Bon-Ton last year. Other smaller shops — Gymboree, Gap, Deb, Hallmark and Radio Shack and Payless — have also shuttered.
Earlier this year the mall was sold at sheriff sale. In August, U.S. Bank National Association purchased the mall for $5.25 million and SPINOSO Real Estate Group is now running the operation.
Since the sale, the mall has begun to see more interested business owners attempt to come back, mall leasing manager Tee Klock said.
“We are getting calls from interested people,” she said. “We are now working with people a lot more to get them to open up inside the mall.”
‘Slammed’ since opening
Muhammad and Arnan, owner of La Familia Barber Shop, are two new tenants.
Mitch Kicks sells hard-to-find sneakers, both new and old, used sneakers and will allow a person to sell their sneakers through the store for a 10-percent fee. Muhammad said he and his wife, Clarissa Narbaez, looked around downtowns of various places but decided the best place was to be inside the mall.
“We are going to help bring this mall back,” Muhammad said.
Mitch Kicks manager Rodney Barclay, said he has already seen an increase in traffic. “People are coming in from all over to see what we offer,” he said. “This will only continue to grow.”
Muhammad said he was told about the mall location from his friend, La Familia Barber Shop owner, Arnan.
“I opened here in mid-October and I have been slammed ever since,” Arnan said. “We are so grateful to everyone who is coming to see us and to the mall itself. The people here at the mall have worked with us and helped us get up and going.”
Arnan has two other barbers working in his shop.
“I want to continue to grow,” he said. “I think being here at the mall and the foot traffic that is walking around is just starting to pick back up again and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Arnan said he called Muhammad and let him know the mall was the place to open his brick-and-mortar shoe shop.
“I let him know the experience I had with the management here,” Arnan said. “I knew he was looking around and I wanted him to know that the mall is absolutely the place people are going to start to come back to.”
The mall has 66 active stores, Klock said. There are 65 locations in the mall, but some locations can be subdivided and house multiple stores.
Besides Mitch Kicks and La Familia Barber Shop, Go Calendars, Quinn’s Toy Shop, Raw Apparel, Renn’s Electronic’s & More, Scent Chips, Simply Chaso, The Track Room Inc., Unlimited Fashion Jewelry & More, an Aubrey Alexander Dealership Showroom and a Hickory Farms location opened in recent months.
Gymboree, Quinn’s Toy Bin, Payless, Good Wil’s and one of two Verizon stores closed at the mall property this year. Qunn’s, which was replaced as a display site for the same owner’s Country Turf and Trail products after the holiday season, reopened as the toy shop for the holiday season this year.
Additionally, state Rep. Lynda Culver, R-108, of Sunbury, opened a new satellite office outside the internal Boscov’s entrance. “I am grateful for this partnership with the Susquehanna Valley Mall that will expand our constituent services in Snyder County and further our ability to host community events,” Culver said when the office opened.
More foot traffic
A new dose of foot traffic will be coming to the former Sears location with the opening of the Family Practice Center. Renovations to about half of the 102,000 square-foot building will be completed by July. Company CEO Al Lagerman said in September plans to open a state-of-the-art testing laboratory in February and a sleep laboratory in June are on target.
In September, Lagerman said “Our vision is to deliver high-quality health care at a lower cost. We’re not going to be a hospital, but we want to deliver care to people.”
The Shamokin Dam-based, physician-owned company is scheduled to open an education and wellness center and Clinical Decision Unit (CDU) where short-term care will be provided.
“That alone will be bringing so many more people to the mall,” Arnan said. “I am excited to see that open its doors.”
Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Garrett said he is thrilled to see progress at the mall.
“For years we were saying once the idea of a repurposed mall beyond retail catches on the mall would be very well positioned,” he said. “Everything to make it successful is all right there. I believe the cycle is about to turn. We are helping to recruit new businesses to go in there all the time.”
Garrett said he had a meeting with a “large company” who is seriously looking at moving into the mall. Garrett said he could not discuss the business but there would be an announcment if the plans were to work out.
Boscov’s department store, the only anchor store at the mall currently, is a free-standing store which opened in 1976, two years before the mall opened in 1978.
When the mall defaulted on its mortgage in May, Jim Boscov, the chairman and CEO of Boscov’s, said his store was “not going anywhere.”
Bath and Body Works officials said they are happy with the Susquehanna Valley Mall and have no plans to leave the location.
As store windows begin to fill with holiday decorations, Shoppers say they are excited to see what the new-look mall will bring.
“I have been hearing that there are some big things coming,” Susan Picola, 27, of Port Trevorton, said. “I like the addition of some of these little stores. There is just something about walking around a mall.”
Picola said she doesn’t expect to see the mall bring in major retail stores or anything high-end.
“I don’t think this is that kind of mall,” she said. “I think this is the perfect little mall to run and shop at and not feel like you need a million bucks when you go.”
For 35-year mall employee Sharon Leonard, who is the marketing manager, being a mall that is part of the community is something she and other mall officials are trying to bring back.
“We want to have the community involved with us,” she said. “I have seen this place go through tough times. I remember in the ’80s when we didn’t think we were going to make it but we did.”
Leonard said she sees the mall on its way back and said since SPINOSO took over control, the group has told mall employees to do what they did years ago to bring people back in.
“So we are,” she said. “We are focusing on going back to being a community mall. We have a great team in place and we are starting to see good things happen again.”