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Businesses fear building will become 'ghost town'



Published: Fri, July 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



One shop in the building has already closed because of the upcoming closing of Phar-Mor headquarters.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- One Phar-Mor Centre business already has closed, and others are in jeopardy as Phar-Mor prepares to close its corporate office.

The Phar-Mor Centre easily could become a "ghost town within a ghost town," said Robert Van Sickle, chairman of the Van Sickle Corp., which owns Conva-Med pharmacy in the downtown building.

Closings will feed on themselves, he said. Once food-court businesses start closing, fewer people will come into the building, and the pharmacy will take an additional hit besides the loss of business from Phar-Mor employees, he said.

One closing already has occurred. Plaza Donuts closed its shop in the building two weeks ago because of the upcoming closing of Phar-Mor headquarters, said Howard Froomkin, company treasurer.

"It was long overdue," he said.

Plaza Donuts has a shop in the Western Reserve Transit Authority terminal and seven others in the area. Sales at the Phar-Mor Centre shop have been constantly dropping, so it doesn't need two shops downtown, he said.

Uncertain future

Nick Capuzello, owner of Jay's Famous Hot Dogs shops in the building and in Campbell, said business at the downtown store would go down drastically if no tenants replace Phar-Mor.

"I don't see how anyone could survive, even me," he said.

He plans to keep the shop open for as long as he can but will begin looking for another location if the Phar-Mor offices remain vacant.

Joyce Collingwood, manager of the Yogurt Connection in the building, said store officials have no plans to leave but are concerned about the future.

"It's not going to be easy," she said.

Phar-Mor has about 180 employees downtown. Before layoffs started early last year, it employed 250 downtown. Back in the company's heyday in the early 1990s, it had 1,500 employees in the Phar-Mor Centre and Erie Terminal on Commerce Street.

The food court has five eateries left, and there are a few small businesses on the bottom floor.

Phar-Mor offices take up most of the second floor and all of the third. OSI Strategic Receivables, a debt collection company, operates a call center on the fourth floor. The fifth floor is vacant, and the sixth floor is occupied by Hanahan-Strollo & amp; Associates architects and the Nadler Nadler & amp; Burdman law firm.

Next week

John Ficarro, Phar-Mor senior vice president, said details of when company employees would lose their jobs will have to be worked out. He said he expected a deal to sell Phar-Mor's stores and warehouse would close next week after legal papers are completed.

It's too early to say what will happen to the Phar-Mor Centre, he said.

After Phar-Mor stores are sold, the company will continue to exist to take care of such matters, he said.

Strouss Building Associates, which owns the building, owes money on a mortgage with Bank One and owes money to the state.

Strouss Building Associates is owned by Phar-Mor and a subsidiary of Phar-Mor.

The building used to be a Strouss-Kaufmann's department store.

In 1986, the city turned the vacant building over to Strouss Building Associates, which received a state loan and a $1 million state grant to turn it into an office building. Phar-Mor moved in 1987.

The land is owned by the Wick Family Trust, which has a lease with Strouss Building Associates.

shilling@vindy.com




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