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Factory Outlets store opening a boost for Pa. shopping center

July 30, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pushing a cart through the aisles of U.S. Factory Outlets Thursday brought back a lot of memories for Mary Bigler.

"It's my old stomping grounds because I worked for Ames for many years," Bigler said as she picked out doilies, undergarments and other items.

In another part of the store, Elsie Mayhugh found the tiny paper umbrellas she needed for her daughter Karah's Hawaiian theme birthday party.

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"It's nice to have something at this end of town," she said.

Outside U.S. Factory Outlets, which had once been an Ames department store, was a sight rarely seen at Southgate Shopping Center in recent years - lots of cars and lots of customers. Before the store's 10 a.m. opening, people were lined up to get inside.

"To me, it's the new beginning for Southgate," said Paul Cullinane, the director of Downtown Chambersburg Inc. "This is a good start. The cash registers are ringing," he said.

It was the second anchor store to open since last fall after discount retailer Big Lots moved into the 30,000 square feet of space that had once been J.C. Penney.

"We're a closeout store ... We may not have the same items tomorrow," U.S. Outlets Chairman Frederic K. Raiff. What customers will find, he said, are prices as much as 75 percent off full retail.

"People who really understand bargains will go nuts here," Raiff said as a couple of hundred customers roamed the 58,000-square-foot store. The New York City-based company has 32 stores, he said.

The openings of Big Lots and U.S. Factory Outlets will bring more businesses to the mall, particularly discount retailers, said Joseph M. Shafran, president of Paran Management Co. of Cleveland, which owns Southgate.

After years of retail exodus, Shafran said there was "a credibility factor" with the public and retailers that Paran has been slowly rebuilding. "It's not going to happen all at once," he said.

All of the other businesses on the 26-acre property, including China Wok, Chambersburg Optical, Record City and Assante's Pizza, have renewed their leases and Paran is negotiating with half a dozen companies to fill another large vacancy, the former County Market grocery store, Shafran said.

"The next piece we're looking at is food and we're working very hard on it right now," Shafran said. The company also is working to bring movie theaters back to the downtown, he said.

CVS built a new drug store at Southgate a few years ago, but its old storefront remains empty. Development Manager Richard Surovi said Paran is negotiating with a "value-oriented merchandiser" to fill the space by Christmas.

Space once leased by a former beauty school soon may have a new tenant in the same business, Surovi said.

The strategy now is to bring in more discount businesses, but that will shift as the mall fills up, Shafran said.

"At that point, we'll be more demanding," he said.

Shafran said he was also in town for talks with the borough about making changes to the entrances of the mall so it will be more accessible to motorists.

Julia Diehl of Shippensburg, Pa., had no trouble finding U.S. Factory Outlets, which fronts West Liberty Street. Diehl said she and her husband waited weeks for it to open.

"I'm excited about it ... That's part of our day. We go out and check the discount stores," she said.

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