Local retail thrives amidst big chain stores
Local retail businesses in State College cater to a wide audience—a mix of both college students and local residents. By providing a plethora of styles for all ages, locally owned businesses are holding their own.
Big chain clothing stores come and go in downtown State College, but local favorites stay. Access, a female clothing store, is located on a prime spot of College Avenue. Olivia Nourse, a sales associate at Access, attributes the success of the store to the surrounding population.
“I’d definitely say [the demographic] would be college students, but we try to hit a variety of people. It’s dependent mainly upon college students though,” said Nourse.
According to Nourse, Access has been at its current location for 13 years as an established retail store. Establishing a local business in a small geographic location like State College can be challenging, she says.
“I think it’s when corporations open and they have the name and everything it will be hard. But it’s also getting yourself out there, because people don’t know you—you’re a new business, a local business, there’s no branding, no franchises. It’s hard to get yourself out there and advertise,” said Nourse.
Despite the challenges Nourse listed, Access has thrived in State College. She equates their style more to popular women’s stores like Forever 21 or H&M, than their neighboring competitor, Urban Outfitters. But what sets local stores, like Access, apart from the others is the uniqueness and the commitment, according to Nourse.
“[We] carry different designers. People know one designer and they come in for that designer. Also the jewelry too, we carry local people’s jewelry, not cheaply made, but by people who make it themselves,” said Nourse.
Photo by EMILY NACEY // VOICES Staff Writer
local, settled retail shops are adjusting, selling similar styles of a
reputable quality to students and community members alike.
Connections Clothing, located on South Allen Street, also shows uniqueness in its selections. Owned by Bob Steinbach, Connections Clothing features both women’s clothing and men’s formal wear. Steinbach says he sells clothing to women up to age 45, but still he channels his clothing to where the business is.
Connections Clothing’s big brand is Free People: a natural, bohemian line full of colors, patterns and textures.
“It’s a unique style,” said Steinbach. “We’re a niche and that’s why we’re still here.”
Steinbach attributes challenges to the general setbacks of owning a business and he also listed more retail specific challenges, like the growing trend in online shopping.
“There’s an onslaught of internet business—new companies where you can ship for free and return for free. They don’t have to look nice,” said Steinbach.
Connections Clothing differs from other retailers with their selection of men’s formal wear. Catering mostly to career men, the menswear section of the store provides local citizens and college students with options in formal wear. Compared to bigger franchises, a complete suit from Connections Clothing is economical at $129.
“We cater to college students, or else I wouldn’t be in business,” said Steinbach.
Employees at Access have dabbled in the idea of introducing men’s clothing into their stores, however doing so would take away from their women’s clothing selection, according to Nourse.
Other retail stores in the downtown area of State College include stores like Metro, People’s Nation and Cheap Thrills—all local businesses owned by Art Fine. After a redesign, People’s Nation now features women’s clothing appropriate for daytime and enjoying nightlife. Similar to Metro, these stores fit the same demographic as other retail clothing stores in the downtown State College area.
Blue I.V., owned by Susan Dreibelbis, carries women’s fashion. Soon, Blue I.V. will make the move down to College Avenue.
Dreibelbis’ business gives back to the local community by donating the profits of certain earrings or accessories, or through donating clothing to those in need. Good customer service is important to Dreibelbis.
If she knows a loyal customer and they can’t afford a pair of earrings, she’ll give them away knowing it will make that customer happy.
“Those are things are a lot of local stores will do that big chains won’t do,” said Dreibelbis.
Dreibelbis selects clothing of better quality, something local stores are known for. When buying clothing for the store, she considers whether she personally would buy something of that quality, before trying to sell it to her customers.
“I figure if I wouldn’t wear it, I wouldn’t pay for it,” said Dreibelbis.
Outside of the confines of State College, local businesses in Boalsburg and Lemont tailor their stores to more mature and specialty markets.
In Boalsburg, Riley on Main, owned by Patricia Gordon, features not only women’s retail but also specialty home goods products.
Gordon elaborated on some of the problems similar retail businesses can have competing with chains.
“You’re [competing] against people that have bigger buying power and can get better deals for bigger quantities that small businesses can’t get,” said Gordon.
Riley on Main caters to an older, “more established” female audience, according to Gordon, but occasionally men shop the store during the holidays, like Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
A college class recently examined Riley on Main as a local business and traveled to the store.
“The whole class traveled to the store and they said they didn’t even know we existed,” said Gordon. “Everything is so focused on downtown.”
Gordon stressed the importance of making the store’s presence known, which she does by tailoring her merchandise to the customers of the nearby restaurants and hair salons.
Because the store’s location is not in downtown State College, Gordon can focus on the “established audience” that comes to that area.
Another store, Diamond and Lace Bridal Shoppe, currently in Lemont, is moving to North Atherton Street in May.
Owned by Diana Zeisky, this store caters to women, ages 16-65 years old, and features formal attire for prom and bridal occasions. A big challenge for this store, according to Zeisky, is “location at a reasonable price”.
“[It’s been] a two-year excursion to find a location that we could [use]