Norma Lodase has been working at the Kenneth Cole store in Franklin Mills Mall for about a year and has noticed quite a difference in the number of customers who have been coming in and out of the store. Although this mall in Philadelphia is still considered a tourist spot as one of the largest malls in Pennsylvania other than King of Prussia, Lodase still worries about her job during this tough economic time. “I am a little concerned about losing my job, and my husband is too. We are worried we won’t be able to pay our bills.”
She isn’t alone. Many businesses across the nation have been hit hard by the recent recession. Franklin Mills Mall is no exception. Last year rumors surfaced of the mall closing, and even today there are still whispers. A billboard on the Pennsylvania Turnpike still claims the mall has 200 stores, yet when counted, it is actually under that amount. Four stores have closed at the mall so far this year, and it is unknown if any others will follow.
“Many of the stores here are outlets, so they’re here today, and the next day they’re gone,” said Shonda Johnson, manager of the Wilson’s Leather store at the mall. Business for her store has been extremely slow, and she said she thinks crime has also risen.
Steve Stein, a security guard for the mall, explained how morale has dropped throughout the shopping center because management has not been open to them about the future of the mall. “Management keeps things hush-hush from us about talks of the mall closing.”
Donna Danielson, the director of marketing and business development, said in an e-mail, “There were never any talks about Franklin Mills closing.”
The mall has been opened since 1989, and is in the shape of a thunderbolt, after Benjamin Franklin’s key-and-kite experiment. The mall covers approximately 1.6 million square feet and is located 15 miles northeast of Center City.
Michael Boldin, an economics professor at Temple University, said that like other companies, Franklin Mills Mall may have had problems long before the recession began. “The current weakness in consumer spending is making everything worse.”
He explained that even if the economy is going fairly well, businesses can still face a downward spiral. “Failures in the retail sector are highly relative to other businesses even in the best of times, mainly because developers overreach and are too optimistic about their ability to lease out retail space to new stores. Malls have strong competition and often are susceptible to even small economic downturns.”
Although there is no official word on if the mall is still in talks to close, Boldin said that what normally happens to retailers, and what may happen to the Franklin Mills Mall property. “Often malls and retail centers fail financially for the developer and then are sold and restructured to survive and come back in a stronger form for a new owner. This may happen to Franklin Mills since it is in a highly populated area.”
David Smalley, a frequent customer at the mall, said, “I heard a lot of rumors about the mall closing, but nothing official.” He was previously employed at the Burlington Coat Factory store a few years ago but still calls the mall his second home. “I don’t know where I would shop if the mall left. And lots of people in this area would lose their jobs. I mean, there is a lot of stores in this mall, and most of the people live in this area of Philadelphia. Lots of unemployment checks, that’s for sure.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for April was approximately 8.9 percent. With the economy in its current state, many employees are losing hours, losing motivation in their careers and finding it hard to pay the bills as it is. This is causing many employees and shoppers unknown fear if their mall will be staying around past the current recession. For now, it’s business as usual for the Franklin Mills Mall.