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Jim Boscov

by Phil Yacuboski

 

Retailers had a good 2017, thanks to consumer confidence rising and strong finish to the holiday shopping season, according to data surveyed by The Commerce Department.

And retailers are hoping for an even better 2018.

“Sales were very good for us,” said Jim Boscov, Chairman and CEO of Boscov’s, who added that while some retailers had not so good numbers, sales — both in-store and online – were strong.

Boscov’s is a private company and does not release sales figures, however he said same-store sales were up ‘mid-single digits’ from the previous years.

“November was particularly good and December was very good,” Boscov said. He said in November, the colder weather helped bring people into the stores. While he said December is a competitive month, the company made its same-store sales even before e-commerce.

Boscov said sales in the northeast Pennsylvania are doing well — including Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

“In many of our locations, we do twice the sales that Macy’s does or more than a Bon-Ton does,” he said. “Even in places like Scranton where the mall has changed dramatically.”

While stores like K-Mart, Toys-R-Us and other retailers are shutting their doors throughout the country, Boscov’s is expanding. In January, the Berks County retailer announced it would take over a JC Penney store space in the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford, Connecticuit. The store will open in October and will become its 47th store.

The owners of the Wyoming Valley and Viewmont Malls called 2017 a ‘pivotal year’ and said they moved to reinvent their properties, which they said has positioned them well for 2018. They also own the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Selinsgrove.

“We achieved record leasing activity in 2017, leasing more space in the first half of the year than in all of 2016 by a factor,” said Heather Crowell, senior vice-president of strategy and communications for PREIT, the mall’s owners.

She called The Viewmont Mall a ‘great example’ of their ‘portfolio-wide repositioning strategy.’

“It has led to our proactively replacing the underperforming Sears with more diverse, in-demand uses. In late summer, DICK’s Sporting Goods, Field & Stream and HomeGoods all opened their doors within the former Sears space,” she said.

Crowell said 10 stores at the Viewmont Mall rank first or second in their respective regions.

At the Wyoming Valley Mall an H&M opened in September, which she said is doing well.

Bon-Ton, meanwhile, is struggling. In January, the company announced it would enter into a forbearance agreement with its lenders. The company is heavily in debt and could end up in bankruptcy. In December, the company missed a $14 million interest payment. The department store began in York, Pennsylvania when the Grumbacher family opened their store. The Bon-Ton has a store in the Wyoming Valley Mall and in West Wyoming. There are also stores in Buckhorn near Bloomsburg and the Lycoming Mall.

Boscov said 60 percent of online customers shop in-store as well.

“We also have online customers in places like California, Florida and Texas,” he said, where there are no Boscov stores. “Most of our e-commerce business comes from within our own online footprint.”

Boscov said he believes his stores are doing well because they are ‘chock full of good merchandise’ as well as competitive prices.

“We still believe in customer service,” Boscov said. “We have plenty of workers on the sales floor who are happy to help,” which he said adds to their loyal customer base. “We’ve gained their loyalty and I hope they see that we are being true to what we are known for including better prices than everyone else.”

“Malls are quickly becoming destinations for more than retail,” Crowell said. “They are also social hubs and centers of health and wellness, dining and entertainment, even groceries. Across our portfolio, apparel tenants make up less than 37 percent of occupied space, with dining and entertainment.”

Boscov said he’s looking forward to a good upcoming year.

“I think in 2018, we will grow at a very conservative pace,” he said. Also in 2018, Boscov’s will add a service where customers will be able to buy online and pick-up their merchandise in-store.