Boscov’s goes BIG: Valley store hailed as largest retailer to open in US in 2021
NILES — To the best of Anthony Cafaro Jr.’s extensive knowledge of the retail industry, the opening of the Boscov’s department store at the Eastwood Mall will mark the only department store opening in a new market this year in the United States.
A store may have relocated in a community here or there, but for starting fresh in a new market, Boscov’s is probably it.
The store carries another noteworthy distinction: At 180,000 square feet, it is in all likelihood the largest retailer to open in the U.S. this year.
These developments are significant for happening in the Mahoning Valley at the Eastwood Mall, owned and operated by Niles-based Cafaro Company, one of the nation’s largest privately held shopping center developers.
To christen the store, Boscov’s, the Reading, Pa.-based retailer, is planning a lavish three-day grand opening extravaganza that starts Thursday.
A charity day Thursday will raise money for local participating nonprofts; the official opening is Friday with a day for families that includes music and kids’ activities; and a ribbon-cutting event, parade and fireworks Saturday.
“If you do an opening right, you can do the business that you need to be doing from Day One. If you don’t do it right, it’s going to take you five years for people to find out who you are,” Boscov’s CEO, Jim Boscov, said.
It will be the third Boscov’s at a Cafaro Company-owned property and occupy about one-third of the mall’s west concourse, including the former Sears department store. To make even more room for Boscov’s, several stores along that shopping corridor were relocated inside the mall.
Last week, crew members were busy putting on the finishing touches.
The store will feature a wide range of departments from a candy counter to optical and hearing centers with extra value-added customer service features, such as free gift wrapping for any item purchased.
That is what, in part, sets Boscov’s apart from other retailers: “We have departments that other department stores have given up on: candy, toys, petites …,” Boscov said, adding others have given up on lower margin hard goods in favor of apparel, which carries a higher margin.
“But in doing that, they give up reasons for people to come to the store,” he said.
Other sources of pride include a broad range of products within each department that are often priced less than competitors — for example, the retailer carries upward of 20 models of coffee makers — and customer service.
The store will employ at least 250 people.
“The goal is not to just have people who are there, but to have people who are knowledgeable and empowered to help … if they see a shopper schlepping two heavy bags, they need to step in and go, ‘Can I have this taken to your car for you,’ or ‘I’ll take it to customer pick up for you.’ You can drive right up, we’ll load it into your car.”
And that’s what sticks with people, but it’s not a gimmick.
“You don’t do it because you are marketing, you do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Boscov said.
Cafaro said he sees Boscov’s as a hybrid local / national and regional business.
“Unlike some of the other nationals that maybe give lip service about being part of the community and being a true business neighbor for folks, Boscov’s really, in the communities we have with them now, they continue to give back through charitable contributions (and) just through the way they treat their employees and how they handle their employees more like family,” said Cafaro, co-president of Cafaro Company.
The large number of employees, Cafaro said, is a good indication of Boscov’s retail intentions.
“The volume that they will do at the store is going to be probably exponentially more than what Sears did. It’s going to be substantially more than what our other apparel anchor stores are doing. They will be the top performing store … in terms of a true department store, they will be the top-performing in all of Mahoning (County) and Trumbull County,” said Cafaro, who excluded Target, which he classified as a different style store.
Boscov’s was supposed to open in October 2020, but the pandemic caused its delay. Renovation work at the store came to a halt for a while and when it resumed, it started back with smaller crews and at a slower pace.
Founder Solomon Boscov emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1914 at 18 years old.
He settled in Reading, Pa., where residents spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, a form of German that was similar enough to the Yiddish language he spoke that he could effectively communicate in the community.
Before too long, Solomon had made a deal with a dry goods store that staked him with merchandise, and he started off as a peddler, first on foot with a sack on his back and then with a horse and carriage.
His reputation as a fair, honest and kind man grew, and he purchased the dry goods store, establishing the first Boscov’s department store in 1918.
His son, Albert, joined a few decades later and became president with Solomon’s death in 1969. Albert’s nephew, Jim Boscov, joined the company in the mid-1970s and became CEO in 2015.
The company has grown to 48 stores in Ohio, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Store No. 49 is Niles.
CAFARO / BOSCOV RELATIONSHIP
Geography and demographics are among the key reasons why Boscov’s decided to expand into the Valley market. The other was the company’s desire to partner with other family-owned companies, which the Cafaro Company is, and the Cafaro Company’s willingness to invest in and maintain its properties in addition to its contributions to the community.
“Certainly, you look at where the opportunities are because nobody is building malls today, and if there is space available, you certainly want to look at it, but that alone means it’s just a possibility,” Boscov said. “What you really want to do is check out the market, the demographics and make sure it makes sense for who you are, that there is a good population density and its people are going to like you.”
“The next part is, is there a deal to be made and in the case of the Cafaros, it’s a family business, we are a family business and we have clicked,” Boscov said.
The relationship between the two companies started in the late 2000s, when Cafaro Company was among a group of private investors that purchased an equity position in Boscov’s during its bankruptcy. The deal was that should Boscov’s successfully emerge from bankruptcy, it would open a store at a Cafaro Company property.
The transaction was fully a business proposition, a way to keep Cafaro Company from becoming overexposed as other large retailers started to slump. But they realized the companies share similar traits that have led to their successes. Among them, both are family-owned and privately held, which makes them loyal to the customer, not stockholders.
The St. Clairsville store, the first to open, and later the store in Erie provided proof to Cafaro Company that Boscov’s knew how to operate in a middle market, especially in Erie, where the mall, like Eastwood, also contains competitors Macy’s and JCPenney.
“It gave us a basis to say these guys are going to do great. We also knew that long-term, we felt the Mahoning Valley will continue to recognize what the Eastwood Mall Complex has to offer as that one-stop shopping destination for their shopping and dining and entertainment needs,” Cafaro said.
“We’re no longer a mall just for Trumbull County; we are a destination for Trumbull County (and) we really believe we are destination for the entire Mahoning Valley and the Shenango Valley (Pa.) as well, and that is why we knew that Boscov’s … they will only have one location in this community. It will be the largest store throughout the region (and) we wanted it to be with us.”