Holy Smokehouse BBQ is one of the mall's newest restaurants. The future of Chambersburg Mall weighs heavily on their current and future businesses. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)
(Greene Township) -- Business has been booming for Greg Hurst's restaurant, Holy Smokehouse BBQ at the Chambersburg Mall. Originally a catering businesses, its first sit-down establishment opened four and a half months ago.
"We got a lot of requests for a sit-down place, and the mall had an opening," Hurst said. "So far business here has been great."
The same cannot be said for the rest of the mall. Built in 1982, the 455,000-square-foot mall was once more populated but has fallen on hard times.. In 2009 it was listed in the U.S. News & World Report's 10 most endangered malls.
The mall gets about 1.5 to 2 million visits per year, according to mall General Manager Dan May.
"Over the years I have definitely seen the amount of people decline," R.C. Stevens, Chambersburg, said.
Stevens comes to the mall for exercise but also has some thoughts on how the mall could attract more shoppers.
"There are definitely not as many good stores as there used to be," he said. "I think they could use some bigger stores because once Bon-Ton goes down then they are in real trouble."
Recently the mall has made an attempt to re-attract customers to its corridors. In 2013, Mason Asset Management of Great Neck, New York, purchased the mall property for $8.8 million from the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust. PREIT had listed the mall as one of its weakest assets.
However, the new owner has not been able to bring back customers in ways it had hoped. When Mason Asset Management bought the mall there were four anchor stores, Bon-Ton, Burlington Coat Factory, J.C. Penney, and Sears. Now only Bon-Ton and Burlington Coat Factory remain, with Sears and J.C. Penney closing within seven months of each other in 2015, in January and July, respectively. Black Rose Antiques took over one of the spaces, but the other remains empty.
"Everybody is going online now, so I think the decline is inevitable," said one shopper who did not wish to be named. "Normally I just go to Hagerstown (Maryland) to do my shopping or online."
"Retailing in general is undergoing major changes," L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation, added. "Online shopping is becoming more popular as well as outdoor strip centers like on Norland Avenue."
Development along Norland Avenue, just a few minute drive down Interstate 81 from the mall, has exploded in recent years. Retail stores Target, Kohl's and Giant have been there since its early days, while recent openings have included popular restaurants Buffalo Wild Wings and Chick-fil-a. That's a small portion of the offerings there.
That rapid development just miles south of the mall illustrates the impact of perhaps' the mall's biggest road block: it's location in a dry township. That means there are no liquor licenses.
According to Ross, the lack of ability to sell alcohol may limit opportunities for outparcel development.
"Restaurants can't sell liquor and now people that might come over from restaurants to the mall can't," he said. "If the residents decided to make it a wet township then it might help a little bit."
The idea of a "dry" township is fast becoming an antiquated concept, as May points out.
"Restaurant/food service and drinking establishments are the fastest growing retail sector since 2005," he said. "This is a social element that seems to be driving the retail sector for now."
Still, most shoppers still think the main focus should be on bringing in new businesses.
"We need more businesses, and I think they should get a sliding fee on their rent," Marie Cooper, Chambersburg said. "It takes money to make money."
May is working on that and says the mall is looking at working on a marketing strategy that focuses on younger children and their parents. Additionally a new retailer could be moving in soon to replace the J.C. Penney.
"We are still finalizing a deal and hope to make an announcement sometime in May," he said. "This new retailer will be new to the area and we are very excited about it."
This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and Public Opinion Online.
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