By Crissa Shoemaker
In a time when bigger is thought to be better, several local strip malls are thriving.
Their storefronts are filled, their parking lots are crowded and their customers keep coming back.
"All you have to remember is that four letter word, N-I-C-E," said Bill Jones Sr., owner of the Carriage Stop, one of the oldest tenants in the 36-year-old Richboro Shopping Plaza. "If you can remember to constantly be that way to your customers, they'll always come back. You can make all kinds of mistakes with them, but if you're nice to them, they'll forgive you."
The Richboro center, on the corner of Second Street Pike and Route 332, has waged a comeback from two years ago, when about a quarter of its 80,000 square feet was vacant, said Dan Hughes, chief executive officer of Metro Commercial Real Estate, which leases the property.
"When we looked at this center, we thought we were very lucky, because we had a decent population density, we had income, we had a corner, we had parking and, most importantly, we had an anchor tenant (Shop 'N Bag) that was a good operator," Hughes said. "We looked at it as a great opportunity to turn the center around. We were confident that we could, just based on all the ingredients that seemed to be there and very obvious to us."
Among those ingredients were a population living close to the property, easy access and plenty of parking, Hughes said.
Shopping centers need to be unique and give customers what they want in order to survive, said Patrice Duker, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York City-based trade association.
"Consumers vote with their wallets," Duker said. "They determine success rate and failure rate across the board. If you're giving consumers what they want, they're going to patronize you."
The successful centers have a diverse mix of tenants that give their customers, who normally come from within a 5-mile radius of the store, a convenient place to shop, Duker said.
"It's a constant evolution to say 'what can we do to better serve our customers?' " she said. "It can be to make sure the customer service is fantastic. Or it could be soup to nuts. Everything is there. Consumers are time-compressed now. They're going to go where they can get one-stop shopping."
On South Oxford Valley Road, customers have their choice of three shopping centers, all of which have withstood the test of time.
Maureen Aurich, owner of Flowers by Jennie Lynne in the Queen Anne Plaza, said stores have come and gone, but they've never been gone for long. Wal-Mart, in the former Fairless Hills Shopping Center, and Sears Hardware across the street in the Deon Square Center have helped keep customers coming, she said.
The worst concern of merchants has been the stagnant economy, she said.
"We have good times and bad times," said Aurich, who has been running the flower shop for 14 years. "You need to learn how to budget your money."