going strong

Pittsburgh malls doing well, even as longtime staples close

Longtime staples of malls — Rue21, Aeropostale, The Limited, Bebe, The Limited and Payless, just to name a few — keep closing their doors, but malls in Pittsburgh aren't in danger.


Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy protection on April 4. The chain will shutter nearly 400 stores. (AP)

The region (minus the nearly abandoned Century III) isn't struggling like others, local retail experts say.

"Now, some of the outlying malls will struggle as anchors such as Macy's, J.C. Penney and others shutter, but the core regional mall assets within Allegheny County are very healthy and thriving," says Herky Pollock, an executive vice president at commercial real estate firm CBRE, which specializes in retail.

Pittsburgh is in a better position than a lot of other cities that were overbuilt, says Mark E. Anderson, vice president of retail for Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm based in downtown Pittsburgh.

"We're starting in a better position. We have a very low vacancy rate. And there is still a lot of demand for tenants."

In the last 12 months, high-end Ross Park Mall has lost a number of tenants — Old Navy, Sunglass Hut Kiosk, Yo Place Frozen Yogurt, Abercrombie Kids, Nine West, The Limited, Bachrach, BCBG, Pro Image and Styleout. In the same time period, six new businesses, including Tesla, Vineyard Vines and Capital Teas, have opened there.

Ross Park Mall has nearly 170 specialty stores. (Simon Property Group)

"Demand for our space is strong so when we do have an opening, we view it as an opportunity to release the space to a retailer more attractive to our loyal customers," says Les Morris, spokesman for Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, whose local malls include Ross Park, South Hills Village and Grove City Premium Outlets.

Two storefronts were visibly vacant this week at Ross Park.

Simon doesn't disclose the occupancy rates for its individual properties but says the occupancy rate across all of its 177 shopping malls and premium outlets in the United States is 96.8 percent.

The U.S.' and Pittsburgh region's mall occupancy rates were 95.7 percent and 97.2 percent, respectively, in the first quarter of this year, but several large-chain retailers, including Rue21 and Bebe, have announced 2017 closings that haven't occurred yet. Bebe said Friday it would close all of its stores by the end of May.

Cranberry-based Rue21 also is closing nearly 400 stories, including ones in Cranberry, South Strabane, Grove City and Frazer locally. (WRAL)

Brick-and-mortar stores are shuttering as millennials increasingly turn to online retailers. Young adults spend more than twice as much per order when buying clothing, electronics and home/kitchen goods online as they do at brick-and-mortar stores, according to the NPD Group.

"Malls today, especially young consumers … are looking for ways to be stimulated other than simply walking through traditional fashion stores," says Pollock, who says that means turning vacant space into entertainment venues, such as movie theaters, restaurants and experiential stores, such as Apple, where consumers linger to try out products.

Brick-and-mortar stores' problem isn't just the Internet, though. It's also that retailers have built too many stores over the past 15 years, says Ryan McCullough, senior real estate economist at the CoStar Group.

"We're seeing the retail market normalize. This is a healthy thing."

In order to survive, malls must adapt.

In June, Monroeville Mall added Steel City Indoor Karting, an all-electric go-kart track and event center, which took over a 64,000-square-foot space in the strip of outdoor stores behind the main mall building.

Monroeville Mall's 4-year-old Cinemark movie theater performs well, too, says Stacey Keating, spokeswoman for the mall's owner, CBL & Associates Properties Inc., based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Still, the mall has nine vacant storefronts.

Dairy Queen and clothing stores Maurice's and Vanity closed this year, and Aeropostale and Madres Mexican restaurant vacated the mall last year.

New stores include H&M, Ulta, Kirklands, Victoria's Secret and Forever 21.

Not only is the mall's occupancy rate in-line with the industry average, but stores closing allows "us to diversify our tenant mix to include more non-retail uses like restaurants, health and wellness, and entertainment concepts," Keating says.

Store managers are split about the health of Monroeville Mall.

City Fashion, which describes itself as a trendy, urban retailer, opened at the mall in November.

"I would say I'm very dissatisfied with the mall traffic. I think it's a lot less than it should be just because the name is tarnished," says General Manager Demetri Carswell, who cited the two shootings that occurred at the mall in 2015 and 2016.

Jimmy Jazz, which sells men's clothing and shoes for the entire family, continues to do well after nine years in Monroeville Mall, says Christina Stoudmire, store manager.

A good manager can bring shoppers into the store even during challenging times, she says.

"Our foot traffic is there. You have to work harder. You have to get out there. You have to bring them in."

Why we can't have nice things

Jerks who threw cowbells ruin it for everyone in Erie

A Pennsylvania arena has decided it really needs less cowbell.

The Erie Times-News reports that the operator of the Erie Insurance Arena is banning the noisemakers.

Fans clanged cowbells throughout the Erie Otters' playoff game Tuesday. And some fans threw them onto the ice as the Otters celebrated a win that sent them to the Ontario Hockey League's Western Conference finals.

The Otters had provided cowbells to fans as giveaways and sold them as part of its merchandise line, but spokesman Aaron Cooney said the team agrees with the ban and will no longer sell the items.

Arena operator Erie Events said Wednesday the ban was intended to make "a safer environment" for everyone.

Associated Press

Parting Ways

See ya, Bill O'Reilly

Fox News has forced Bill O'Reilly out of his lucrative talk show hosting job, following the public disclosure that millions of dollars were paid out to settle sexual harassment claims against him.

O'Reilly had reigned for two decades as a popular conservative and influential commentator on the network, which is filling his show's 8 p.m. slot with Tucker Carlson's program, The New York Times reported.

"After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Bill O'Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel," 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News, said in a statement.

On April 1, The New York Times published an investigative piece that said that Fox News and 21st Century Fox had continued to stand by O'Reilly amid mounting sexual harassment allegations against him. The company and O'Reilly had reached settlements with five women that totaled about $13 million, according to the newspaper.

The fallout from the Times piece included "The O'Reilly Factor" losing more than 50 advertisers. Women's rights groups called for O'Reilly's firing.

O'Reilly, who denies the allegations, released his own statement Wednesday.

"Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history... It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today," O'Reilly said in the statement.

Matters were made worse for Fox since another sexual harassment scandal had forced out Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News last year.

Though O'Reilly's program is the most-watched cable news show, and the controversy surrounding him has sent ratings up over the past few weeks, pressure was mounting for Fox News executives to take action against him, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Furthermore, the backlash worsened this week when it was revealed that the law firm Paul Weiss is investigating allegations that O'Reilly backed out on offering a paid contributor's job to one of his show's frequent guests, Wendy Walsh, a psychologist with an advice show on a radio station, after she rejected his advances in 2013.

Laughing all the way to the Bank

Dave Chappelle's controversial comedy shows most-watched for Netflix

Comedian Dave Chappelle caught backlash for the content in his two recent standup specials but numbers don't lie.

Netflix is not revealing the numbers but the shows did well -- very well, the company said.

"Early results are promising; the triumphant return of a comedy legend in 'Dave Chappelle: Collection 1' was our most viewed comedy special ever," the streaming service wrote in a letter to shareholders Monday about its first-quarter results.

"Collection 1" was comprised of two shows -- "Deep in the Heart of Texas: Dave Chappelle Live at Austin City Limits," filmed in 2015, and "The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at The Hollywood Palladium," filmed in 2016.

Each special was a little more than an hour long.

The comedian's jokes about about gay rights, the LGBTQ term, O.J. Simpson, Bill Cosby and other topics were deemed offensive by some viewers.

Netflix never reveals any viewership numbers, but the fact that its statement about Chappelle's shows was in a letter to investors bolsters its credibility, Entertainment Weekly reported.

Netflix reportedly offered Chappelle $60 million for three specials in total.

'I wanted to keep it going'

Don't be that ass who doesn't 'pay it forward' at Bethel Park Starbucks

It started Tuesday morning, when a drive-thru customer at a Starbucks in Bethel Park offered to buy coffee for strangers in the vehicle behind him.

"It started out by… someone just came up and they wanted to do just that and pay it forward, and it just kept going," Starbucks barista Logan Norris told KDKA.

But it didn't stop there, employees told the station.

The number of generous people continued to rise at the Starbucks on Library Road in Bethel Park, a borough about 7 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

"I was the 137th person to pay it forward, to buy it forward today by buying the coffee today," Pleasant Hills resident Danielle Yerkey said.

"Paying it forward" is defined as a person repaying a good deed he has received by doing a good deed for someone else. The concept was made popular by the 2000 film "Pay It Forward," which starred Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment.

The film was based on a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Starbucks in Bethel Park reported that the number of customers paying it forward reached at least 160 Tuesday.

Even the employees got in on the action.

If a customer wasn't inclined to pay for a stranger's coffee or food, Norris, 20, picked up the tab a few times.

"I wanted to keep it going, so I didn't want it to end there," he said.

Does Amazon sell baby racquets?

Serena appears to be bumpin'

Some female professional tennis players might have a better shot at tournament titles this year if a tough competitor takes some time off.

Serena Williams appeared to announce her pregnancy with a Snapchat photo of herself with the caption "20 weeks" today.

In the photo, she wore a yellow bathing suit, which revealed a slightly round stomach.

The tennis superstar, 35, deleted the image later in the day.

Williams is engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, 33.

She posted a photo of them together on a beach on Instagram this week.

Williams won her seventh Australian Open this year, when she bested her sister, Venus Williams.

Tennis professionals all over the world might be looking forward to Williams, a fierce competitor, sitting out some tournaments this year due to a pregnancy.

They can only hope.

'They want to drink local'

Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week explodes as more embrace local brews

Six years ago, a small group of Pittsburgh's craft brewers got together at Penn Brewery in Troy Hill, had a few beers and asked the question:

How can we better tell people our story?

So was born Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, which was a decidedly modest undertaking at the start.

"It was — I don't want to say it was small, but ... it was small," says Brian Meyer, Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week board chairman. "No one really knew what to expect. This year compared to year one is very dramatic in the amount of change."

In year one, only a handful of breweries participated — there simply weren't that many craft breweries in the region — with fewer than 10 sponsors.

This year, 18 breweries are involved, along with 44 sponsors. From April 21 to 30, there will be more than 150 events at several venues, including tastings at participating breweries, Caliente Pizza and Draft House in Bloomfield and Pig Iron Public House in Mars.

Why such growth? Because Pittsburghers have embraced craft beer and everything it stands for, Meyer says.

"It's people deciding to buy local and giving their money to the guy down the street rather than the giant CEO and their vacation home on the beach," he said April 15 at Penn Brewery, where many participating breweries met to discuss the event. "They want to drink local, they want to spend their money where it's most useful, and that really translates to craft beer."

Read more about PCBW from the Tribune-Review.

Everyone Has an Opinion

People names Julia Roberts 'Most Beautiful Woman,' Twitter whips out calendars

It's like the 1990s again -- over and over again.

People magazine has named Julia Roberts the "World's Most Beautiful Woman," which is a record-setting fifth time for the actress.

The magazine's 28th annual "World's Most Beautiful" issue will hit newsstands Friday.

Roberts, 49, appears on the magazine's cover for this week's issue, just as she did for the first time in 1991, a year after she shot to stardom playing a prostitute with a heart of gold in "Pretty Woman."

People's Editorial Director Jess Cagle announced the magazine's decision on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday morning.

"She's been famous a very, very long time and she's very, very popular," Cagle said, according to ABC News. "She's also a person who just keeps getting better as she matures."

The actress looks great and "she's carved out this really simple, perfect private life away for herself and the spotlight. That's difficult to do when you're Julia Roberts," Cagle said.

Also included in the "Most Beautiful" list are Pittsburgh-area native Joe Manganiello and his wife, Sofia Vergara, George and Amal Clooney, and Jay Z and Beyonce.

Roberts is trending on Twitter today, but some commenters were less than impressed with People's decision-making skills.

Others bashed the bashers or the fact that a "Most Beautiful" magazine issue even exists in 2017.

One commenter is just happy that Roberts is OK.