Independently owned stores add a special touch to any mall, and Logan Valley Mall is no exception.
"Our leasing department is trying to bring new things into the center and enhance our retail mix. We don't specifically target the independents," Joy Weidel, mall spokeswoman, said. "From a leasing perspective, you always look for a mix of anchors, independents, large corporate - whatever the needs are in the center."
One of the independent stores in Logan Valley Mall is Gardners Candies, which has been a tenant there for nearly 40 years.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich)
Assistant Manager Erin Houp of Gardners Candies helps stock shelves.
"Being an independent in the mall gives the mall a local flavor. I wish there were more independent stores. Many of the malls are beginning to look alike," said Sam Phillips, Gardners president.
Weidel said there are 86 mall tenants, and about 20 percent of them, including those in the food court, are independents.
Kranich's Jewelers opened in the mall in 1987 and consolidated its downtown Altoona store with the mall store in 1995, following the Dec. 16, 1994, fire that caused extensive damage to the mall.
President Michael Kranich Jr. said there are advantages to being an independent retailer.
"In our industry being independent gives us the ability to provide what services the customers need at the right price. Chain stores may be locked in to what they must do in regard to service and price at the corporate level," Kranich said. "We have more autonomy to work with customers to meet their expectations."
Nature's Habitat, owned by Annette and Bruce Kramer of Johnstown, once had about eight locations throughout the region. The Logan Valley Mall store is their only remaining one.
"Altoona stayed strong. The people like us," Annette Kramer said.
The Kramers made some changes to enable their store, which sells clothing, blankets, incense and jewelry items, to survive and prosper.
"We used to be all nature. We went to a rock 'n' roll theme but still sell nature. That is what is in our hearts," she said.
Being an independent, Nature's Habitat provides a more personal touch.
"We are hands-on. We buy what we want. We are one-on-one with our customers. We are good to the people. We do not have sales quotas," Annette Kramer said. "If my customers have a problem, they call me. I am here to help them. They don't need to call a corporate office."
Independents don't have to follow corporate rules and regulations when it comes to business decisions, said Barry Harkless, owner of the Mall Barber Shop, a tenant since 1967.
"If we want to make changes, we don't have to go through the corporate red tape," Harkless said.
Being in a mall can help the independents, because the mall itself is a destination shopping spot for many people.
Kranich noted that Logan Valley Mall draws customers from Cumberland, Md., to St. Marys.
"The Logan Valley Mall is the top location in the area," he said.
Ooh La La, owned by Laura and Frank O'Farrell, which offers trendy clothing, accessories and specialty spa products, and Hourglass Portrait Studio, owned by Larry Helsel, recently moved to the mall from Logan Town Centre.
They also said there are advantages to being an independent retailer.
"We are able to pick and choose the merchandise that we like. I travel to New York to pick out clothing that is popular for the seasons," Laura O'Farrell said. "It is a learning experience to know what to put in that is going to sell."
She added that what sells in their Johnstown store might not sell in Altoona and vice versa.
Helsel noted that decisions can be made quickly to respond to customers' needs.
"We are not handcuffed; we can do what we want to do," Helsel said.
Red Eye Coffee, which previously was located near Penn State Altoona, moved to the mall in September 2010, said co-owner Richard Fink.
He said the decision to move was based on the opportunity to get more foot traffic and better exposure.
"We did a lot of research about what we wanted and didn't want. We were able to make the decisions ourselves about what we wanted to do," Fink said. "We had looked at franchises but thought it would be a better decision to go au natural."
On the other hand, independents can be at a disadvantage from a marketing standpoint.
"They [national retailers] have more buying power and their names are more well known. We don't have the name recognition or buying power," Laura O'Farrell said.
Local independents say it is important to do research before opening a store in the mall.
"The motivation and inspiration is important, but you need the facts and figures to avoid future problems," Fink said.
Phillips said the location is important.
"You don't want to be in a corner. You want to be near the middle where there is more traffic," Phillips said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.