University Plaza stores adjusting to loss of Giant Eagle

Since the South Water Street Tops Market store closed in February 2005, times have been tough in the plaza. At least one store has moved, and others have closed down permanently, although a few are still open.

Is this a sign of things to come in University Plaza now that Giant Eagle closed last month?

Right now, business isn’t exactly booming in the former Tops plaza.

“There are no new people,” said Tanya Cottrell, assistant manager of Famous Hair, one of the stores left in the former Tops Plaza. “We have our moments, but most of our customers are people who have continuously come in since before Tops closed.”

Since Tops closed, Cato and Curves have both closed down, though a new Curves opened across from University Plaza. The remaining stores have seen drops in income during the past two years.

Some stores in University Plaza are seeing similar drop-offs in sales since Giant Eagle closed Feb. 23.

“Obviously sales have slowed,” said Cecilia Chambers, assistant manager at Fashion Bug. “But so far so good. It’s not too horrid, but it’s not too good.”

Chambers said that, so far, there are no plans to move or shut down this branch.

Fashion Bug employee Vanessa Canavan said that she believes most of the other businesses in the plaza will also lose profit, since most customers stopped into stores after grocery shopping.

The family-owned China City, the major restaurant in the plaza, is also being affected financially.Employee Anne Lau said business has dropped a bit since Giant Eagle closed.

The impact of this might not be as great as it is in the former Tops plaza, because the Kent Plaza Theater is still bringing in customers.

“We get any walk-ins from the movie theater, not from Giant Eagle,” said George Shea, owner of Union Computer in University Plaza, the store directly next to Kent Plaza Theater. “And we work from an established customer base mostly anyway.”

Some stores in University Plaza are seeing a pick-up in sales, probably due to the fact that they carry food and toiletries. Rite Aid and Dollar General have both had boosts in sales during the past few weeks.

“The store is actually doing fine,” said Tami Dewall, manager of Dollar General. “We have bread and stuff, so people who used to go to Giant Eagle will walk in here to get their food.”

As to the question of whether stores in University Plaza that have been affected negatively will move, it is too soon to determine.

“People know us being here,” Lau said. “It’s a great location in Kent, and it would be hard to move our entire restaurant without people not knowing where we went.”

Rumors have begun circulating in both plazas about new grocery stores taking the places of Tops and Giant Eagle.

“The rumor right now is that Giant Eagle is moving in here,” said Michelle Carder, assistant manager at the Dollar Tree in the former Tops Plaza. “That will really boost sales, and it’s going to be crazy!”

Employees from other stores in both plazas also have heard the same rumors.

“(We’ve) been busy working the phone lines to reach out to grocery prospects,” said Kent City Manager Dave Ruller. “I can’t say we’ve landed one yet, but the response to the cold calls has ranged from the ‘click’ of the phone being hung up on us, to genuine interest and exchanges of information.”

In an e-mail, Ruller listed Marc’s, Aldi, DeViti’s Italian Market, Mustard Seed Market & Caf‚, Wilson Mill Foods Inc., Dave’s Groceries, IGA, Vaughn’s Market, Save-A-Lot, Seven Grains Natural Market, Big Apple Supermarket, Buehler’s Fresh Food Markets, Trader Joe’s and Fisher Foods as stores with which he’s held conversations.

“It’s always dangerous to speculate about what could, might, should happen based on a few initial contacts, but we’ve been mildly surprised by the level of interest by a couple of the grocers we talked to,” Ruller said.

The owner of the former Tops building, Matt McGill, of McGill Property Group, said he does not have any new tenants, and Tops is still under contract in the plaza.

A similar situation is occurring in University Plaza, with Giant Eagle still under lease, according to Bob Irr of JJ Gumberg Co., which owns the plaza.

“The longer (Giant Eagle) is closed, the bigger the probability of stores losing customers,” said city council member Wayne Wilson, whose ward includes both plazas.

Contact public affairs reporters Charlotte Muller at [email protected] and Robert Taylor at [email protected].