J.C. Penney trading spaces in Monroeville Mall

| Saturday, July 16, 2011

A new plan to make over two anchor spaces in Monroeville Mall should deliver more foot traffic and spending, retailing experts and shoppers at the complex said Friday.

Mall owner CBL & Associates Properties Inc. announced the J.C. Penney store would relocate from its spot near the mall's center to the end Boscov's department store once occupied. The opening is slated for September 2012.

Much of the current Penney's space will then be transformed into a 12-screen Cinemark XD movie theater set to open in late 2013.

"It's a great move for the mall, which was beginning to feel a little stale," said Paige Beal, marketing professor at Point Park University. "When you bring more foot traffic into the mall, you bring more people into the stores, which increases revenue on a per-square-foot basis."

With such features as stadium seating and 3-D display, the multiplex represents "an upscale movie theater" that should be able to charge premium prices, said Beal, "which is definitely a plus" for mall revenue.

The location will be closer for many east suburban movie patrons than competitors at The Waterfront mall in West Homestead, North Versailles and The Mills in Tarentum.

At 48,000 square feet, the movie theater will occupy less than a third of the 190,000-square-foot space Penney's will vacate.

Penney's has been a Monroeville Mall anchor tenant since the mall opened in 1969. The other anchor is Macy's.

"It's a good thing if they fill up the vacant store," said shopper Rebecca Hornezes, 31, of Wilkinsburg. "It looks weird when there's this big vacant spot."

Penney's will take over all of the second level and part of the third level of the three-floor Boscov's, which left in late 2008. Penney's will take up 110,000 of Boscov's 240,000 square feet, leaving the ground level vacant for now.

Tom Gerber, general manager of the mall, said CBL "is in discussions" with other prospective retail tenants for the space left after Penney's relocates.

"Penney's has kind of outlived itself in terms of how it's laid out and the merchandise," said shopper Bob Gumbert, 75, of Penn Hills. "A new Penney's would bring in more people to the mall who would hopefully spend more money."

A fresh merchandising concept is what Penney's has in mind, said store manager Gary Hodgekins. He called the new location "a completely updated store that will make it easier to shop" and "reflect fashionable trends at compelling pricing."

Hodgekins said the planned 110,000-square-foot store typifies those Penney's is opening these days. The smaller footprint makes it "easier to implement our merchandising strategy."

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