by VICTORIA WOODS
The restaurant options have been expanding at a breakneck pace in small-town Tiffin, Ohio, for residents and students of its two college campuses alike; however, it seems the outlook for retail continues to decline.
Opened in 1980, the Tiffin Mall was once a popular shopping destination anchored by JCPenney and Kmart. By 2015, there were just nine stores and businesses in the mall, including JCPenney and fellow national retailers RadioShack, GNC, and Maurices – a far cry from what once was, but a better state than what is today.
Maurices now stands as the only retailer left in the mall, alongside seven other businesses that aren’t traditional storefronts of national brands usually seen in malls. The mall directory now consists of Maurices, Xcaret Mexican Restaurant, Dance Unlimited, Don’t Panic Tattoo Studio, Stepping Stone Realty, ASI Security, Family of Faith Lutheran Church, and Sarver Industries. Although the Cinemark movie theatre and an Asian buffet seem to generate some business, they aren’t attached to the mall on the inside.
Maurices was left to fend for itself after the closure of anchor store JCPenney in October 2016 and GNC in January 2017.
With a location that has been thriving in the Tiffin Mall for over 12 years now, Maurices is a women’s fashion store that carries sizes zero through 26 and focuses its philosophy of women’s fashion around the idea that “style is a mindset, not a measurement,” according to its Twitter account.
“With me being from a different store, the traffic from what I am personally used to seeing is much slower,” said Misha Hemphill, the store manager of the Tiffin Maurices. “Judging by just traffic trends across retail everywhere, traffic is much slower [and] is a little bit down, but our traffic is pretty steady. There are some days we have an increased amount of traffic, and there are some days where it is completely decreased. Of course, weather plays a factor into that, and what is going on in the world plays a factor, also. But our traffic, I would say, is pretty steady.”
Despite a seemingly bleak situation for the store from a shopper’s perspective, JCPenney’s closure, from what Hemphill had to say, could be the opposite of a death knell for Maurices.
“Honestly, we look at that as an opportunity for us to really grow and support our business with JCPenney’s being gone. One thing that Maurices does company-wide is that we host splurge events. Actually, that is where a customer can book a time with us because the store is completely closed, and it’s like a private shopping party,” she said. “Whoever hosts the event will receive 30 percent off, and any guests that attend the event receive 15 percent off. It’s just a really fun environment, having the associates at their disposal. We also offer personal styling experiences, where you can book a half an hour or an hour of your time, and we pick out outfits for our customers from head to toe, and we really just maximize their time, so it’s beneficial to everyone.”
Even though the Tiffin Mall is not booming with tenants, it attracts a good number of walkers during all operating hours, said Sandy Fitschen, who has been with maintenance at the Tiffin Mall for nearly four years.
“The mall is currently being used by mall walkers that the Tiffin Mercy Hospital physicians have sent them to come over to, because the mall is in excellent shape for an inside mall,” she said.
While the majority of the mall is said to be in good shape, The Advertiser-Tribune reported that JCPenney’s closure was partially due to concerns about the property’s upkeep in a July 2016 article. A JCPenney spokesman said that the property was in need of “proper maintenance for the safety and comfort of customers and associates.”
Sept. 1, 2016 was a day meant to bring hope to the Tiffin Mall’s customers and tenants, when Key Hotel and Property Management purchased the mall from previous owner Mike Kohan. That hope, however, soured soon after the ink dried for some tenants.
Tony Urbanick, the owner of Don’t Panic Tattoo Studio, said the new ownership has not affected his business, but the stress has affected him.
“The new owners are trying to charge us all of these utility fees and increase everyone’s rent. It is not what it was supposed to be,” Urbanick said. “Supposedly, when they first bought it, it was in the local paper that they were going to get the ball going. The first two weeks, it seemed like they were doing good, but then it just kind of fell off a cliff. Along with the rest of the mall, we also went without heat until end of November due to the ownership in 2016.”
So what is in store for the Tiffin Mall? Will more than mall walkers finally dwell in its halls again soon? Only time will tell.