After five years of business, H&M closed its state college store in September 2021. Photo by Matt Snigowski | Forward state
Before the pandemic, on a beautiful autumn afternoon, I was teaching a class and walking to see friends over local whiskey. The sidewalks of Alan Street were crowded with people, and stores, restaurants, and bars were bustling with activity. When you remember how great this city was, it was one of those unique State College moments.
Things were busy even while driving home — but not on foot. From construction.
Sitting on top of large retail spaces, Cranes builds 10-story apartment buildings. Since I was optimistic, I dreamed of new and cooler places that would take up those spaces when the buildings were completed. A food court with pop-up restaurants! Maybe a cool furniture store! Maybe a German beer hall!
Some of it came to life. Orange Theory and Tadashi are under The Metropolitan On College, Roots Natural Kitchen is under The Edge on Beaver, and El Jeffes is under The Maxine on History.
But Lots of new retail spaces are still vacant. It is estimated that approximately 70,000 square feet of new apartment buildings are available in the downtown area.
This place is special in a very special way — it is very expensive to move into.
Old and new places
We can say that you are a really good local who wants to open a custom butcher shop in downtown. You call a realtor and she shows you two places.
The first is a former deli. The kitchen is old. Fluorescent lighting sounds. The walls are tiled with pastel colors from the 90s. The bathroom is kind of bulky.
“What else did you get?” You ask.
The second location is under a new apartment building. It is a completely empty slate — just concrete slabs. Your mind goes wild. It’s like those shows on HGTV.
“This is the dream place!” You say. “How long does it take to get ready?”
“It’s ready now,” your realtor tells you. “You pay to build this space anyway you want.”
“Wait, do I have to pay to build this? Even the bathroom? ”You ask.
You quickly calculate a little.
At a cost of $ 100- $ 140 per square foot, it would cost an additional $ 500,000- $ 700,000 to turn a concrete space into a usable 5,000 square foot butcher shop. It includes equipment, supplies, furniture, cash registers, and everything else you need.
“I can take deli,” you say.
The problem with this situation is that the downtown has less delivery and more concrete boxes. Many small business owners cannot afford to turn a concrete space into their dream space.
In other words, it would cost at least $ 7 million to turn concrete boxes in the city into usable spaces.
So who has the financial backing to transform these spaces, except for fearless entrepreneurs?
Local vs. National Retail
I hope it goes without saying, but I like our locally owned Downtown stores. If I have a coffee meeting, you’ll find me Webster or Irving. We buy Christmas and birthday presents from The Growing Tree and Kitchen Cabbage. I have lunch in the corner room and drink local whiskey after work. (Then the list goes on!)
But national networks have the money to leap into our empty downtown spaces. Even if they don’t last long, it will still be a good thing.
H&M was a blessing
In September, I locked my bike outside the H&M at State College and finally went inside.
The shop was closing Due to global readjustment. I was not a regular customer, but in the five years I was in downtown I bought a few items.
In hindsight, I was appalled at how much H&M had invested in building that store. The walls, the electricity, the bathroom — it all stays there, ready to move on to the next business owner. All 16,000 square feet.
So with that being said, we need to start thinking about how we can bring more national networks to downtown, because they are the kind of companies that can afford to take our concrete boxes and create shops, restaurants and bars. In our community for the next few decades.
In Boulder they have:
- Altard State
They have in Charlottesville;
- Banana Republic
- JCrew Factory
- Williams Sonoma
They have in Ann Arbor;
- Warby Parker
Some of them will not work here. But some?
What can we do?
At this point, I can hear real estate people yelling at me.
“Don’t you think we’re trying to call all the networks on the planet !?” They say.
Existing merchants are also crying out. “More networks will get me out of business!”
But as our city has undergone this great transformation in the last decade, the rising tide is raising all the ships. And I honestly believe it.
What good is it if those ships are empty?
Brad Grosnick is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Penn State Engineering Entrepreneurship Program. He is part of a team launch RediscoverStateCollege.com. All opinions are his own.