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Pittsburgh Mills forging ahead

| Monday, Jan. 9, 2006

Post-holiday shopping doesn't just mean clearance sales on Christmas decorations and sweaters.

Amid signs announcing post-holiday sales are kiosks covered with blankets and boarded-up store fronts as seasonal stores open just for the holidays are packing up and moving on.

"Always in any mall, as an industry standard, you have a number of local entrepreneurs and local and national businesses that do short-term leases," said David Macdonald, general manager of Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer. "It's popular around the holidays. It allows for high exposure at a high traffic period. It's not uncommon for stores to drop off."

The Mills Corp. is in negotiations with a number of stores to fill new vacancies in the mall, Macdonald said, but declined to name specific companies until they are signed, or to define what typical leasing agreements are like. "That's just our policy," Macdonald said.

The mall doesn't release sales figures, but Macdonald said some of the stronger categories this holiday were athletic apparel and electronics.

"Anything with Steelers on it seemed to sell," Macdonald said. Gift certificates also were popular, he said.

In particular, Lucky Strikes, a martini bar-style bowling venue, had a strong third quarter, according to Bill Steen, general manager for Lucky Strikes. Nationally, the franchise is due to open five locations this year, including in Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Jose.

"It's a hot spot," Steen said, adding recently the Rockettes and Gov. Ed Rendell stopped by.

Steen said rumors that Lucky Strikes at the Mills is floundering and might close are false.

The week between Christmas and New Year's was particularly busy since many people had time off work and school, he said. Lucky Strikes offers a place to spend several hours in one place, Steen said, as opposed to going to the South Side in Pittsburgh, for example, where customers end up bar-hopping.

"It's a weekend warrior spot," Steen said. "An L.A. concept north of Pittsburgh."

As the new year begins, Macdonald said he's looking forward to businesses surrounding the enclosed mall to open. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club are due to open by the end of the month. The Olive Garden and Smokey Bones Barbeque and Grill are expected to open in February to join other restaurants such as Chili's, Steak and Shake, and LongHorn Steakhouse.

"It's not uncommon for a mall to sort of feel its way around and stabilize and determine the right mix of tenants," Macdonald said. "It's a good way for an entrepreneur to try out an idea with minimal risk. It's not unusual in the first year, similar things happened in Arundel (Mills in Maryland) and others of our malls."

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