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Grove City Outlets Stay Relevant in Changing Retail Climate

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GROVE CITY, Pa. — The Grove City Premium Outlets remain an economic driver for the Shenango Valley, even as an ever-growing number of shoppers turn to the internet to buy what they used to buy at malls.

The outlet complex, which opened in August 1994, has 132 tenants and some 1,500 individuals who work in the stores. Simon Property Group owns the retail complex.

“We’re the economic engine of the area and an integral part of the community,” says Carmen DeRose, manager of the complex in Springfield Township, Pa.

“We’re happy to have them here,” Mercer County Commissioner Matt McConnell says.

The county assisted the project with a declining tax abatement to offset the cost of running sewer lines to the site.

The outlet stores are the largest taxable parcel in Mercer County, McConnell says.

“The impact has been tremendous from an economic standpoint,” he says.

The property generates $2.1 million in county, municipal and school district revenue, including $550,262 for the county alone, reports Cathy Herriott, director of the county revenue department and chief tax assessor.

“The locals look to us as their regional mall. That gives us our day-to-day traffic,” DeRose says, “and weekends is when we get swamped with a lot of tourism.”

The stores draw an estimated 6.5 million visitors per year. Many come from western New York, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and Ontario, Canada.

“They’re bringing external money right to Mercer County,” McConnell remarks.

“We’re close to the Canadian border so we see a lot of Canadians,” in part because of the favorable exchange rate, DeRose adds.

“It’s really made a difference for that corner of the county that had been predominantly rural,” McConnell says.

The outlet mall has spurred other development, especially in the last five to 10 years, including restaurants, hotels and an adjacent shopping center under development, Springfield Commons. Wendell August Forge moved to complex in 2013 after a fire claimed the original forge in 2010.

Had the outlet mall not developed, the commissioner is not sure where it might have relocated, he says.

The time of greatest sales for the shops is the fourth-quarter holiday season, but the back-to-school season is also huge because of the proximity to Grove City, Thiel and Westminster colleges and Youngstown State University, DeRose says. Gannon University and Clarion College are an hour’s drive away.

Shopping at the Grove City outlets, he reports, hasn’t been hurt by growth in online shopping, which many retailers cite as the primary culprit for declining sales.

The complex remains a “destination shopping experience” and the tenant mix is “always changing” as stores come and go, DeRose says. “So we remain relevant. That’s a huge focus for us,” he says.

Among the more recent additions are Bradley’s Book Outlet, Joe Maxx Coffee Co. and One Hot Cookie.

As big-box retailers close, hollowing out traditional malls and strip plazas, outlet malls such as Grove City Premium outlets remain vibrant because of the values shoppers find there. Prices at the outlet stores are often 25% to 60% off suggested retail price.

The Grove City shops has added amenities for shoppers such as charging stations for mobile devices and cushioned seating areas instead of the hard benches.

McConnell doesn’t think the presence of the outlet mall has hurt merchants in Grove City itself, unlike in the 1960s and ’70s when the advent of suburban malls drew retail from downtowns. Rather than influencing locals to change their buying patterns, the outlet stores lured more people from well outside the municipality, he asserts.

“Grove City is such a Norman Rockwell type of a town,” the commissioner says. “People go for the charm.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.