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Oakmont furniture, gift store moves to larger site in Pittsburgh Mills

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, 11:10 p.m.
Paul W. Boyle Jr., poses for a portrait in his store at in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Paul W. Boyle Jr., poses for a portrait in his store at in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
A polar bear decoration is a bit hit with children at the Home Collection store in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
A polar bear decoration is a bit hit with children at the Home Collection store in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Traditional Christmas trees decorated in red and green are popular with shoppers at the Home Collection store in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer.  Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Traditional Christmas trees decorated in red and green are popular with shoppers at the Home Collection store in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer. Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Paul W. Boyle Jr. adjusts the ornaments on a Christmas tree in his Home Collection store in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Paul W. Boyle Jr. adjusts the ornaments on a Christmas tree in his Home Collection store in the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Paul W. Boyle Jr. poses for a portrait in front of his Home Collection storefront at the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Paul W. Boyle Jr. poses for a portrait in front of his Home Collection storefront at the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.

Coming across the new Home Collection store inside Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer was a nice surprise for Resha Chepkevich.

“I need a few more gifts, so I thought I'd look around,” said Chepkevich, 47, of Leechburg, as she browsed around the store on a recent afternoon. “Everything looks really pretty in here.”

The store's halls are certainly decked for the holiday season.

Formal Christmas trees decorated in bright lights greet customers as they walk inside. Green wreaths hang along one wall, and decorative Christmas tree ornaments dangle from hooks. Sparkly light-brown reindeer and soft-looking brown bears sit on shelves along with accent pillows and wall art.

Ron Crosby, who stopped by the store with his wife, Donna, was intrigued by the Christmas decorations.

“It just caught our eye,” Crosby, 65, of Penn Hills, said. “We thought we'd look around and see what they had.”

Home Collection sells high-end home furnishings such as furniture, lighting and area rugs, in addition to fine gifts and seasonal products.

Paul W. Boyle Jr., president and CEO, said all products are made and selected specifically for the store, so the offerings are unique.

An Oakmont fixture for more than 20 years, Boyle closed the store, which was then called Home & the Holidays Home Collection, in 2013 to go exclusively online.

Boyle said the Oakmont storefront, next to the What's Cookin' at Casey's restaurant on Allegheny River Boulevard, was too small.

“If we wanted to grow and do better, we had to expand,” he said.

It re-opened under its new name, Home Collection, in a bigger location Nov. 4, taking over the old Brooks Brothers outlet store inside Entrance 2 at the Frazer mall.

At 10,000 square feet, the Mills mall location is more than five times larger than the Oakmont store. Boyle said the name change is “more befitting of what we do as a retail operation.”

A resident of Penn Township, Butler County, Boyle said he chose to stay in the Alle-Kiski Valley because the area lacks the type of products his store sells. He said he has a strong customer base from places such as Fox Chapel, Oakmont, Lower Burrell, Indiana Township, Wexford and Pine.

“I'll be honest,” he said. “I looked at Ross Park. I looked at South Hills Village. We felt for what we're offering that we can do it most effectively here and keep our costs down.

“We don't have to sell our product for an exorbitant price just to pay the rent. It benefits everybody ... by moving in locally.”

According to Boyle, Home Collection has made over 1,000 transactions since its mall debut. While he would not disclose his store's financial history, he did say he is “very pleased with what's happening.”

Shopper Ron Crosby, however, had doubts.

“My question is, is this place still going to be here next year?” he said. “There's a lot of talk about Pittsburgh Mills being in bad shape.”

In late August, the mall's value was revealed to be $11 million — a reduction of about 94 percent from its $190 million appraisal in late 2006.

“Sales are flat, occupancy is declining, and tenant occupancy costs are above market,” said a November special servicer commentary provided by Trepp LLC research analyst Sean Barrie.

“Yes, it's quiet right now, but it's definitely coming back,” Boyle said. “We are excited and encouraged with the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills as our new home and look forward to many years at this facility.”

Online shopping has its successes, limits

Home Collection follows a trend of online retailers opening brick-and-mortar shops because consumers want the best of both worlds, said Audrey Guskey, an associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University.

“Research by California Institute of Technology has shown that shoppers will pay more at a retail storefront because they are able to see and touch the merchandise,” Guskey said. “While consumers are gravitating more toward online and mobile shopping, they still have a strong need to be in a physical store for the experience and the social interaction.”

Boyle used a fixture adorned in gold Christmas decorations as one example as to why he opened a new physical store. The decorations come in 10 shades of gold, but one would be hard pressed to notice the difference on a computer screen. In person, it could be a different story.

Experiences like this are what entice his customers.

“I still have product out there online,” Boyle said, “but what I found was that this type of product that we sell, people want to see it, they want to touch it, they want to feel it, they want to hear about it.”

Leah Babb, 30, of Hartsville, S.C., and her husband Ben, 31, were in town to visit family for Thanksgiving. They made a stop at the store.

Leah Babb was pleased to see formal Christmas decorations for sale.

“I like formal decorations more than silly, happy Santa, stuff like that,” she said.

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702 or mczebiniak@tribweb.com.

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