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The last days of Parkway Center Mall

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Signal Item
Kmart signs are plastered around the area, advertising reduced prices as the venerable store prepares to close for good at the Parkway Center Mall on Jan. 6. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Signal Item
Ron Russitano, owner of Phantom of the Attic comic book store, rings out customer Justin Fanzo of Carnegie at his new location on Noblestown Road. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Signal Item
Kmart signs are plastered around the area, advertising reduced prices as the venerable store prepares to close for good at the Parkway Center Mall on Jan. 6. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Signal Item
Parkway Center Mall near Green Tree is practically desolate now after thriving during its early days in the 1980s. Several stores remain open in the mall but soon will close and either relocate or go out of business. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item

In the nearly empty Parkway Center Mall, only the second of three floors remains open.

Last week, Anita Okraszewski of Elliott walked briskly through the dark hallway that few customers patronize now. On cold, windy days, Okraszewski uses the mall's second floor as a walking track.

“It's amazing,” said Okraszewski, who walks several miles a week. “I come here to walk on cold days because I know no one will be here. And it's warm. I can get a good workout. I can walk on the second floor because there is no one here to bug me.”

The cavernous shopping center, visible from the Parkway West and once favored by residents of Green Tree and surrounding communities, is scheduled to close shortly after Kmart shuts down in early January. The few small businesses remaining, including Dalmo Optical and The Sports Deli, plan to relocate by Jan. 13.

The mall opened in the early 1980s and was a busy outlet for many businesses before it began to decline in the late 1990s. Jo Ann Fabrics, PharMor, CompUSA, Syms, National Record Mart, Chi Chi's Restaurant, KayBee Toys, Radio Shack and Payless Shoe Source all are gone.

Mall owner Kossman Development Co. said on Sept. 24 that the mall would close after Kmart, a division of Sears Holding Corp., shuts down when its lease expires. The store opened in 1986 with 54 workers. Kossman is exploring plans for redevelopment, Steve Weisbrod, vice president of business development, has said.

Sophia Zhang has owned Dalmo Optical at Parkway Center for 12 years. The mall's closing is disappointing, she said.

“I worked hard and tried to bring people into the mall. Now look where we are. I will relocate, but I have a long list of patients that want me to stay and want me to stay close,” Zhang said.

Zhang and her two employees will move to Greentree Road in Green Tree.

The Sports Deli, in the mall since 2000, sells sports memorabilia and clothing. Owner Michael Autieri said he's unsure where he will relocate. Autieri believes his core customers will follow him.

“Over the years, most of my customers (came into the store) with their girlfriends. Then they get married, and they have kids. And their kids come here to shop when they grow up,” Autieri said.

Most people — and businesses owners — agree other shopping areas, such as Robinson Town Centre and The Pointe at North Fayette, triggered the downfall of Parkway Center.

Ron Russitano of Scott has owned Phantom of the Attic comic book store for 21 years. Rather than wait until mid-January, he moved the store last month to Noblestown Road across from Noble Manor Shopping Center.

There he has more than three times the space he had at Parkway Center.

“It is pretty big. I have no idea how big. But I'm happy with it,” Russitano said.

He believes the sour economy led to Parkway Center's demise, along with expansion of shopping in Robinson.

“The thing is all of my core customers know I am here,” Russitano said. “I called them, emailed them. I made them aware I was leaving (the mall) months ago.”

Green Tree Manager Dave Montz does not believe the mall's closing will hurt the borough's economy. In fact, residents appear to be more worried about whether the adjoining Giant Eagle supermarket will stay open, Montz said.

Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts said the store will not close, having recently signed a five-year lease.

What will happen to the mall building once it closes is not known, Montz said.

When that occurs, even Okraszewski will have to make changes.

“I know I will have to figure something out,” she said. “It will be ... very cold to walk outside.”

Jeff Widmer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5810 or jwidmer@tribweb.com.

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