STEUBENVILLE - Dominic Teramana admits he was "very, very excited" a little more than two years ago when he realized T.J. Maxx was as interested in the community's retail potential as he was in bringing a major clothier to the city.
He's even more excited now that the store is opening for business at 8 a.m. on Oct. 13 in the Hollywood City Center.
"It's amazing, particularly for a community that, from a population perspective and demographics, has been on the decline over the last 25, 30 years," said Teramana of Teramana Enterprises, which owns and operates the center. "But our shopping center has been protected by the fact that other developers don't always see the potential in our area and the topography doesn't lend itself to building another strip center."
T.J. COMING — The Hollywood City Center has seen several moves among its tenants during the past two years. One of the latest changes will be the opening of a new T.J. Maxx store, coming Oct. 13. — Paul Giannamore
The soon-to-be-open T.J. Maxx will take up nearly 25,000 square feet of retail space in Hollywood Center, he said. It will occupy the storefront vacated by Office Max.
"We had to totally reconfigure all the restrooms, all the offices," he said. "Being that it was a grocery store at one time we had to do a lot of leveling, and there were a lot of lighting issues. We did the flooring, the lighting, even the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) had to be expanded ... they wanted more smaller units vs. the larger, but fewer, units than were there before. We had to do all that, and we also had to rebuild the dock area to their requirements, give them a break area and a training area."
The transformation didn't come cheap, but there's no disputing the results - which is exactly the reaction Teramana was looking for, given the effort he's made during the past five or 10 years to give the half-century-old property a makeover with updated storefronts and a clock tower to create a collegiate feel, all while incorporating green spaces, new curbing and a unified walkway to enhance the shopping experience.
"It's just a beautiful store," he said. "And, our drawing area is going to expand dramatically. We'll probably have the only T.J. Maxx between Pittsburgh and Columbus. I think we'll attract people from Harrison County, Jefferson County and probably even East Liverpool. We'll probably attract shoppers from Weirton, Wellsburg and Follansbee, too. I think it's going to be better for all of the businesses and better for our community in general."
There's been a lot of behind-the-scenes work done to make it all happen.
He said in many ways it was like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together.
"We'd just had CVS go vacant, and that space turned out to be exactly the right size for the new Office Max prototype, and the old Office Max space turned out to be exactly right for T.J. Maxx."
What they have now is a retail center very close to 100 percent occupancy, a major achievement in and of itself.
"There are some changes we're doing at the building where Fabian's used to be and where Mattress USA used to be. There's a great user going in," he said. "Once that's done, we won't have any vacant space in the center."
And, with T.J. Maxx in the fold, Teramana figures Hollywood City Center has become the kind of retail destination he'd envisioned when he took over his family's management company.
"I think Hollywood City Center is in the best shape it's ever been - we have brand new leases with AAA tenants. Kroger has been spending money big time on the inside of its store and we're spending money on peripheral properties in front of the center. We've also put in planters and walkways," he said.
"But you have to take care of what you've got, make sure it's inviting to the people who live close to it and would like to be able to shop here, in their community. We're so close to Pittsburgh, people have their choice of shopping destinations but over the last 15 years, the (shift) has been to strip power centers a lot like ours. We've worked hard at it, but we've been fortunate.
"Those of us who live here realize we're just 35 miles or so from the Pittsburgh airport and maybe 45 miles from the Golden Triangle, PNC Park, Heinz Field, Heinz Hall and all the other things Pittsburgh has to offer, but at the same time, we're still a small community with a great strip mall.
"I'm as excited about Steubenville as I've always been. To have a strip center as complete as ours is and in as good condition as ours, and in a very safe community, hopefully it will attract people to come to our area and realize that Steubenville has a lot to offer, make them think about living here."