OUTLOOK: Shopping local – in a big way – at Eastwood Mall Complex

NILES, Ohio – Do you remember hopping in the car for a “shopping trip”? A lot of people think of that as a quaint concept that’s all but dead, unless you count shopping on the tiny screen of some electronic device. Believe it or not, the idea of walking into a physical place, picking up merchandise, paying for it and taking it home is making a roaring comeback.

After a long period of virus-induced isolation, Americans have been eager to get out again sample the social joys of shopping. According to the Commerce Department, total retail sales for October through December 2021 were up 17.1% over the same period a year earlier, with most of it happening in brick-and-mortar retail stores.

That enthusiasm for shopping was evident during the recent holiday season at the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles. There are several reasons why people came out. As news accounts spread of shipping and supply chain problems nationwide, many in search of that special Christmas gift wanted to make sure they had it in hand.

A great many people wanted to check out the new Boscov’s that opened at the mall in October. At 180,000 square feet, it’s the largest department store in the region and perhaps the only all-new department store to open in the nation last year.

Perhaps one big motivation was the desire to “shop local”. Along with national chains, there are also dozens of locally-owned stores serving customers at the Eastwood Mall Complex. They offer a unique flavor to the merchant line-up, often providing merchandise you may not see anywhere else. You’ll find it in the formal fashions on display at Lavish by Coral Rose and the specialized jewelry and Vera Bradley accessories at Gracylane.

In 2019, Renee Malutic and a partner opened a shop unlike any other in the region. The store, known as MiMe, uses 3-D printing technology (additive manufacturing) to create incredibly precise miniature statues of whoever poses in the store’s sophisticated photography booth.

Leaping into the role of entrepreneur is something Malutic relishes. “It allows you to have some creative freedom” she said. “You’re marketing something that you’re creating yourself.”

At Tri-County CBD, Jordan Robinson builds loyalty by counseling customers on the benefits of cannabis-derived oils, lotions and edibles designed to provide relief from a variety of ailments. “When we tell people we’re a ‘mom and pop’, they get relief just from that,” he said.

In many cases, the “new” stores at Eastwood are already familiar to local consumers. Last summer, after 135 years in Sharon, the iconic Reyers shoe tore moved (just about 14 miles) to the mall. While its old clientele followed, new customers soon discovered the brand.

Reyers Vice President Steven Jubelirer noted the importance of customer loyalty. “All our money we make, and all the money our employees make, is kept local,” he said. “You cannot find that up and down the street at chain stores. When you come into Reyers, customers know the difference.”