There are three indoor malls located within a ten-minute radius of downtown Harrisburg (four if you generously count Strawberry Square). There are several dozen strip malls (“Outdoor Lifestyle Enrichment Centers” if you want to use the corporate-speak term). We have countless standalone stores and probably, by my admittedly-rough estimates, about 85% capacity of saleable retail space. Yet Central PA still has yet to see any real “cheap retail” come fluttering in.
I’m not talking about Ollie’s, which these days seems to do little more than sell dated product at slightly-under-typical-retail price. Amelia’s is good for super-cheap culinary staples, and I’m told Aldi’s is the same (though I’ve never been there). I’m talking about the high-volume, all-generic, innovative-idea retailers.
There’s a store out there called Steve and Barry’s. You’ve probably never heard of them. They’re a fast-growing retail chain that sells only their own brands of clothing. Their “catch” is that everything in the store is $9.98 or less. Jeans, dress clothes, T-shirts, parkas, jackets, shoes, and everything in mens’, womens’, and childrens’ sizes. Their quality ranges from top-shelf to “acceptable, but far better than you’d expect for a $10 pair of shoes”. I rock S&B jeans 24×7 and one of my favorite jackets came from them. The closest S&B to Harrisburg is about 45 minutes away, either in the Frackville Mall or the Rockvale Outlets.
CiCi’s Pizza lays down some serious dollar-saving ability somewhere between the McD’s Dollar Menu and CPD. $5 gets you all-you-can-eat of marginal-quality pizza and WhatNots. Sure, go ahead and laugh at the awe-inspiring redneck-ness that is an all-you-can-eat $5 buffet; sometimes you just get sick of the $.89 menu at Taco Bell but don’t feel like laying out $15 at Applebee’s. If we had a CiCi’s here, and if it had WiFi, I would seriously look into the possibility of negotiating some sort of “all you can eat and also you can move in” pass with the management. And yet, once again, the nearest CiCi’s is in Lancaster (and the next closest is in Maryland).
And there are other low-cost / white-label retail operations out there that have yet to get local representation. Harrisburg just doesn’t seem to be a retail-friendly market. Despite being in retail management for nearly a decade, I haven’t been able to figure this one out. I know for a fact that S&B looked into moving into the Harrisburg Mall back in 2004 but later pulled out due to the ghetto factor.
One business concept that seems like it would be amazingly effective yet has apparently (to my knowledge) never been developed is an all-generic store. There are plenty of manufacturers out there building no-name, UL-listed products that can be sold for less than the name brands. I mean, a no-frills Black-And-Decker coffee grinder is $20 at Target; why can’t I get a store-brand for $10? Or even $15? I mean, I’d happily sacrifice name brand for price on most of my appliances and household items. Laugh all you want, but all my silverware and flatware is Ikea, and it looks damn good.
How about an all-Equate (or Finast, or ShurSave, or whatever) store? I’ll take my generic 12-grain bread ($1.96 vs $3) and my generic Asprin ($.99 vs $4) anyday. I’ll admit it; I’ll even take generic shampoo (look, if you’re a guy, you’re pretty much committed to getting shampoo that you don’t like anyway. It’s either shell out $20 for American Crew or get something that smells like flowers and/or comes in a hot pink bottle. The shampoo industry has some sort of conspiracy against men, I’m telling you). Give me generic dishwasher detergent, generic laundry detergent, generic pet food, generic window cleaner, generic paper towels, generic towels … If someone launched an all-generic store, I would patronize it daily.
So where are the cheap stores?