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Fun Party Stores in Hempfield are last 2 shops to close

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Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, 11:09 p.m.
 

Fun Party Stores will close its two remaining stores in Hempfield this fall, ending 31 years of selling party supplies, children's costumes and holiday items to customers, the family owners said.

The Fun Party Stores outlet at Eastgate Plaza and a freestanding store along Route 30 will hold 50 percent off liquidation sales beginning Friday and remain open until the inventory is sold, said Robert LaVella, who co-owns the business with his sisters, Toni Orner, 44, and Susan Martin, 52.

LaVella and Orner said they do not have a specific date for the closings but expect it will be by Halloween. They have no plans to restock the stores with inventory as the sales continue, Orner said.

LaVella and Orner said their independent business, caught between competition from discount stores and Internet sales and the rising prices of vendors, also fell victim to changes in society.

“The retail landscape has changed so much” during the last 30 years since their parents, Robert and Irene LaVella, opened the business, their son said.

The big-box stores were not prevalent in the market; customers did not shop using a computer; and there was not the proliferation of discount stores and supermarkets offering the items sold in the party store, Orner said.

“We fulfilled a niche market — the fun market — for a really long, long time,” Orner said.

The recession of 2008 also played havoc with their business, as customers cut back on spending money on extras such as parties, Orner said.

“We took a hit during the recession and we never recovered,” Orner said.

Despite economic reports to the contrary, “the recession is not over,” she said.

Some customers were so set on using the Internet for their sales that they would come into the store, take a picture of the item they wanted, then look online to see if it was available, Orner said.

The family's party store in Monroeville was the first casualty of the downsizing when they closed it 10 years ago. But it wasn't until last December when the family seriously contemplated exiting the retail business, LaVella said.

They watched as Paper Mart, an independent party store chain in Allegheny County, closed six stores earlier this year, LaVella said.

They closed their store in Countryside Plaza off Route 119 in East Huntingdon in November 2013. They shut the doors to their Rostraver store on June 30, when the family sold the building, Orner said.

The closing of the two remaining retail stores will result in the loss of about 15 jobs, with the workforce reduced to just about five employees, LaVella said.

In their heyday of the '90s, the family had five party stores in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, and the company had about 75 employees, LaVella said.

“That's been the toughest part. Telling the employees. We've had some employees here 20 years, 15 years,” LaVella said.

Even when the closings were announced, most employees said they would continue to work in the stores, LaVella said.

While the retail stores are closing, the family will continue wholesale operations of its Fun Services Festival Supply Co., and Banners n' at, a full-service banners and sign company, both of which are located in its store west of Jeannette. The remaining location will house a new balloon decor and party and event styling shoppe.

The balloon business is one aspect of the party sales that they have not lost to electronic shopping, Orner said. The balloon business has been growing while the other sales have fallen, Orner said.

She offered a simple explanation for the strength of the balloon sales.

“You can't buy (inflated) balloons over the Internet,” Orner said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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