Inside South Mall, Allentown, PA: Where History Meets Modern Retail

The History of South Mall in Allentown, PA

South Mall, nestled in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is a testament to American retail’s evolving landscape. Its inception in 1975 marked a significant development in the Lehigh Valley’s commercial scene, transforming a once-open tract of land into a bustling retail hub.

The Hess’s Department Stores chain developed the mall, a name synonymous with regional retail innovation. This move was strategic, aiming to capitalize on the growing suburban population seeking convenient shopping experiences outside the urban core of Allentown.

The site chosen for South Mall was historically significant, being the former location of Hess’s South shopping center. This transition from a standalone department store to a fully-fledged mall was indicative of a broader trend in retail, where shopping centers became community focal points, offering a wide range of goods and services under one roof.

The original layout and tenant mix were designed to cater to a diverse demographic. Hess’s Department Store was the anchor, drawing shoppers across the region.

Over the years, South Mall underwent several renovations and expansions to adapt to changing consumer preferences and retail trends.

The evolution of its retail mix, transitioning from high-end department stores to a blend of local boutiques, national chains, and service-oriented businesses, showcased the mall’s attempt to respond to the shifting dynamics of the retail industry.

Despite these efforts, the mall has faced significant challenges in retaining its relevance amid the rising competition from online shopping platforms and other retail developments. It has struggled to update its offerings and continuously improve the shopping environment.

Today, the South Mall stands at a crossroads, reflecting the broader challenges traditional retail spaces face in the digital age. While it still offers a variety of retail, dining, and entertainment options, its future is still being determined.

The mall’s situation underscores the critical importance of adaptability and customer-focused strategies in the retail sector.

As it looks to the future, South Mall’s ability to reinvent itself will be crucial in ensuring it remains a relevant and preferred destination for things to do in Allentown, PA. The community’s support and the mall’s innovative approaches to retail may yet write a new chapter in its history.

Over the years, South Mall underwent several renovations and expansions to adapt to changing consumer preferences and retail trends.

The evolution of its retail mix, transitioning from high-end department stores to a blend of local boutiques, national chains, and service-oriented businesses, showcased the mall’s attempt to respond to the shifting dynamics of the retail industry.

Despite these efforts, the mall has faced significant challenges in retaining its relevance amid the rising competition from online shopping platforms and other retail developments. It has struggled to update its offerings and continuously improve the shopping environment.

Today, the South Mall stands at a crossroads, reflecting the broader challenges traditional retail spaces face in the digital age. While it still offers a variety of retail, dining, and entertainment options, its future is still being determined.

The mall’s situation underscores the critical importance of adaptability and customer-focused strategies in the retail sector.

As it looks to the future, South Mall’s ability to reinvent itself will be crucial in ensuring it remains a relevant and preferred destination for things to do in Allentown, PA. The community’s support and the mall’s innovative approaches to retail may yet write a new chapter in its history.

Evolution of Retail Landscape at South Mall

The mall’s landscape significantly changed in 1979 when Hess’s, including South Mall, was acquired by Crown American.

This change set the stage for a major expansion in 1986-1987, which doubled the mall’s size and introduced a new section of enclosed mall space on the southern side of Hess’s South.

This expansion was highlighted by the opening of Jamesway, its 100th store, as a new anchor, celebrated with an event featuring skydivers landing in the mall’s parking lot. The early ’90s continued to see growth, with the addition of Phar-Mor as a third major anchor in 1991.

However, the retail scene at South Mall was challenging. The departure of Jamesway in 1995 due to bankruptcy led to a reimagining of its space, eventually filled by Stein Mart in 1996, marking the brand’s first store in Pennsylvania.

Further changes occurred in the late ’90s and early 2000s, including the closure of Weis Markets in 1999 and Phar-Mor in 2002, each leading to significant shifts in the mall’s tenant composition.

2003, PREIT purchased Crown American, and again, in 2014, South Mall was sold to Nicholas Park Mall LLC for $23.6 million. This sale was part of a strategy to offload underperforming malls, with South Mall being identified as such two years prior.

The 21st century has seen South Mall adapt to the changing retail environment by hosting community events and introducing nontraditional tenants like Cave Brewing Co. and South Mall Mercantile. Despite these efforts, the mall has faced anchor tenant closures, including Stein Mart, in 2020.

These shifts underscore the mall’s ongoing struggle and adaptation in a rapidly evolving retail landscape, reflecting broader trends of consumer preference changes and the challenge of maintaining relevance in the digital age.

Current Anchors and Their Stories

The anchor stores at South Mall, Ross Dress for Less, SuperSets Gym, Petco, and Staples are vital in attracting diverse shoppers.

Ross Dress for Less, which opened in the early 2000s, quickly became a favorite among shoppers looking for brand-name clothing at discounted prices.

Its success at South Mall is a testament to the growing consumer preference for value shopping, especially in the post-recession era.

Another key anchor, SuperSets Gym, caters to the health and wellness trend that has surged in popularity over the past decade.

Offering a wide range of fitness equipment, classes, and personal training services, SuperSets Gym has established itself as a destination for those looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle, further diversifying the mall’s tenant mix.

Petco is the go-to place for pet owners in the area. It provides a comprehensive selection of pet supplies, grooming services, and adoption events.

Its presence at South Mall since the mid-2000s underscores the increasing importance of pets in people’s lives and the demand for pet-related products and services.

Lastly, Staples has been a fixture at South Mall, serving the needs of individual customers and local businesses with its extensive range of office supplies, technology products, and business services. Despite the rise of digital alternatives, its longevity at the mall highlights the ongoing demand for office-related products and services.

Together, these anchors contribute to South Mall’s appeal as a multifaceted shopping destination, offering a mix of retail, fitness, pet care, and office supply stores.

Their varied product and service offerings cater to a wide audience, ensuring that South Mall remains a relevant and attractive place for shopping and more in the Allentown area.

Specialty Stores and Services at South Mall

South Mall’s diverse array of specialty stores and services plays a crucial role in its appeal to a wide range of shoppers. Among these, Attic Mice 2 is a unique destination for collectors and those searching for vintage and eclectic items.

With its expansion to include “Deeper Into The Attic,” the store offers an even broader selection of collectibles, antiques, and curiosities, catering to niche interests and contributing to the mall’s distinctive shopping experience.

Blick Art Materials Stores, another specialty retailer, serves the creative community of Allentown and surrounding areas. Since its opening, Blick has become a vital resource for artists, offering a wide range of art supplies, from professional-grade paints and canvases to craft supplies for hobbyists.

This store attracts art enthusiasts and supports the local arts by providing essential materials for creative projects.

The dining options at South Mall further enhance its status as a community hub. A1 Japanese Hibachi Steakhouse, for instance, offers a unique dining experience with its live hibachi cooking performances, while Yocco’s Hot Dogs, a local favorite, provides a taste of Allentown’s culinary tradition.

These dining establishments and others like Dino’s Pizzateria and the recently added Dragonknight Gaming & Collectibles offer visitors various food and entertainment options, making the mall a destination for more than just shopping.

Community Engagement and Events

South Mall has long been recognized as a shopping destination and a center for community engagement and events. The mall’s commitment to serving the Allentown community is evident through hosting various events yearly.

Seasonal celebrations, such as holiday markets and Halloween trick-or-treating events, have become cherished traditions, drawing families from across the region. These events provide entertainment and shopping opportunities and foster a sense of community among residents.

The South Mall Community Room is a versatile space for local organizations, businesses, and individuals to host meetings, workshops, and small gatherings.

This facility underscores the mall’s role as a community hub, offering a place for educational, cultural, and civic activities. South Mall supports local initiatives and encourages community involvement by providing this space.

Partnerships with local organizations further demonstrate South Mall’s commitment to the community. For example, the collaboration with Habitat for Humanity ReStore offers shoppers access to affordable home improvement items and supports Habitat’s mission to build and repair homes in the area.

These partnerships and the mall’s ongoing events and services highlight South Mall’s role as an active participant in the Allentown community, contributing to its vitality and cohesion.

Culinary Delights On Wheels: Food Truck Thursday at South Mall

As the warm whispers of summer returned to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2023, a cherished community tradition made its delectable comeback: Food Truck Thursday at South Mall.

Celebrating its sixth year, this anticipated culinary spectacle began on May 18 and tantalized taste buds every Thursday until September 14.

Food Truck Thursday is more than just a marketplace for food; it is a venue where the community’s diverse culinary culture is celebrated. The vendor lineup varies weekly, keeping the event fresh and exciting.

Some food trucks that added flavor to the event include Bodega Bistro Food Truck, La Frikitona, Ktown Pub Food Truck, Good Chives, and Cousins Maine Lobster.

Each brings a unique culinary voice to the event, from the gourmet burgers of Bodega Bistro to the enchanting Puerto Rican dishes of La Frikitona. In essence, Food Truck Thursday is not merely a food event. It is a celebration of local culinary culture, a platform for small businesses, and a unifying force for the community.

The aroma of grilling, baking, and frying filled the air every Thursday, and the South Mall became a weekly gastronomic utopia, serving up delicious fare and uniting the community, one dish at a time.

South Mall Faces Tenant Challenges Amidst Growth and Expansion

South Mall Mercantile, a beloved store known for its eclectic mix of homemade goods, antiques, collectibles, and secondhand items, closed on January 25, 2023. The store, a fixture in the mall for over eight years, cited an increase in rent as the primary reason for its departure.

The announcement, via a Facebook post, highlighted the store’s unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a reasonable lease with the mall’s management, ultimately leading to a financial impasse that made continued operations untenable.

This closure comes amidst a period of change and growth for South Mall, marked by the announcement of a new Giant store set to open in 2025 and the recent additions of DragonKnight Gaming and Collectibles and Caring Hearts Thrift Boutique.

These developments indicate a dynamic shift in the mall’s tenant composition and offerings, aiming to diversify its retail and service mix. However, the departure of South Mall Mercantile raises questions about the challenges existing tenants face, particularly smaller, independent stores, in adapting to the evolving retail environment and rent structures at the mall.

The closure of South Mall Mercantile underscores the delicate balance malls must maintain between attracting new tenants and supporting the needs of existing ones.

The loss of a store that offered a unique shopping experience and had a loyal customer base highlights brick-and-mortar retail’s broader challenges in accommodating the economic pressures of physical retail and the preferences of a diverse shopper demographic.

The Future of South Mall

As South Mall looks to the future, it stands at a crossroads of opportunity and adaptation. The retail industry’s ongoing evolution, driven by technological advancements and changing consumer expectations, presents both challenges and pathways for growth.

South Mall’s strategy involves adapting its retail mix to include more experiential and service-oriented businesses and exploring redevelopment opportunities that could redefine its role in the community.

One potential direction is the development of mixed-use spaces that combine retail with residential or office components, creating a more integrated community hub. This approach could attract a steady flow of visitors, provide new amenities to the Allentown area, and foster a vibrant, 24/7 environment.

Additionally, the mall could embrace sustainability and technology, incorporating green spaces, energy-efficient designs, and digital touchpoints to enhance the shopping experience.

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Comments: 2
  1. Avatar of Carolyn
    Carolyn

    Is the kids gym still there

    Reply
    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      It appears that Ohana WonderTown Playground and SuperSets Gym are the current options within the mall.
      https://www.ohanawondertown.com/
      https://supersetsgym.com/

      Reply
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