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Penney's Closure at Chapel Hill Mall Could Help Other Retail in Area

picture of Chapel Hill Mall entrance
Chapel Hill Mall -- facing a power shut off and foreclosure proceedings -- is now losing its last anchor store, JCPenney -- which was operating as a standalone location even before the mall itself was open.

The impending closure of the last anchor store at Chapel Hill Mall could have mixed impact for the rest of the shopping center as well as the stores nearby.

Only one of the baby blue-painted escalators at JCPenney is still functioning. Since the holiday shopping season, the shelves have been looking sparse and there are temporary walls set up to move everything inward, decreasing what would have been empty floor space. Penney’s was one of the original anchors at Chapel Hill, and it’s now the last one standing – until it closes in April.

University of Akron Economics Professor Amanda Weinstein says it’s unlikely Chapel Hill can stay open without any anchors. But Penney’s closure could provide a boost to neighboring Cuyahoga Falls.

“So this could drive some of the foot traffic that was remaining at that mall to go elsewhere, whether it’s just Target or their new downtown development.”

Weinstein says the decline of traditional retail began well before Chapel Hill’s struggles.

“We simply overbuilt malls. We built too much retail space per-person in the U.S. And we built up this mall-retail bubble. And what we’re seeing is that bubble bursting. And not every mall is going to survive.”

Chapel Hill is at about 50 percent occupancy. Weinstein says possible re-uses for the property could include self-storage units (Storage for America has opened a facility in the old Macy's), apartments, or even a senior health and wellness facility.

Chapel Hill has faced threatened water and power shut-offs in recent months due to unpaid bills. Summit County began foreclosure proceedings this month. Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan says he’s open to working with the mall’s owner, Kohan Retail Investment Group of Great Neck, NY, to redevelop the property, or bring in new tenants.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.