FRACKVILLE - Economic conditions are providing all kinds of challenges, especially in retailing, but the Schuylkill Mall, as well as the Cressona and Fairlane Village malls in Schuylkill County, continue to promote themselves to prospective tenants.

Schuylkill Mall manager Elaine Maneval recently had to deal with the loss of two stores (Littman Jewelers and Heritage Shop), but the mall, which is almost 900,000 square feet, still has 88 percent of its area occupied. The mall is owned by Empire Realty Investments, leased by Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services and managed by Fameco Rest Estate.

Julia Namutka is a sales associate with Mericle and specializes in leasing.

"Right now what we're trying to do is connect with the tenants and keep a hand-on approach," she said. "In addition to that, between the owner of the mall, the management of the mall and myself as leasing, we're teaming together to provide a more friendly, hassle-free approach to leasing."

That expedites the process so tenants can open quicker and expand.

"We're always looking to enhance the mall and the support of the anchors and other retailers in the mall, too, and looking for different types of tenants that would work with the tenants that are there," Namutka said.

She said locally owned companies are important to the Schuylkill Mall.

"This is a regional mall off of Interstate 81 and Route 61, but it also has a lot of surrounding communities," she said. "We want to work closely with the communities and have them work with us to provide a better shopping experience.

"Retail can provide your clothing and your merchandise, but it can also provide some kind of services as well," she continued. "We want to get the local and regional business people out there interested in the mall because it has a lot to offer with its location and its anchor tenants and with the supporting tenants in between the anchors. Elaine and I and Dana (Baker, mall marketing director) are focusing on bringing local people there."

Maneval said despite the challenges, the mall is not in a "desperate state."

"We still have 55 open and operating retailers and entertainment and non-traditional stores," she said. "It's a large mall, so there is a lot of space here. It's important to note that we are still a very strong and successful mall."

The unique tenant mix is important, including for families.

"Besides the Pearl Theater and the game room, families can come and do different things. We like that we're hosting the Black Diamond Mat Club where kids can hold their practices and families can have dinner and shop," she said. "There is also North Schuylkill Junior Spartan Center. The mall is a very eclectic right now and makes for a great mix."

Maneval said popular public events at the mall include Schuylkill County Idol and Junior Idol, Lithuanian Days, vendor shows and the seasonal events with Santa Claus.

"In the last year, the attendance at our major events has been higher than we have ever seen," she said. "It's all about the community focus of the mall. We want to people to know that we are a venue for your event."

Asked about the major work done in expanding, upgrading and enhancing the Pearl Theatres Stadium 8 complex, Manevel and Namutka said it shows the confidence the company has in being at the mall.

"The theaters are so much more than they used to be years ago, and they provide so much interaction that it draws people to the mall," said Namutka. "People come to the theater and then eat and shop. This gives businesses an opportunity to come to the mall and be part of it."

"They could have done a minor renovation, but they did a top-of-the-line, blow-them-away expansion," Maneval said. "It's the premier theater easily within an hour radius of us. And the bar and a lounge is also a restaurant with some really good food. It is a feather in Schuylkill Mall's cap to have them here."

The Cressona Mall, Schuylkill County's first, is marking its 40th anniversary this year, having opened in 1974. Located off state Route 61, the mall's visibility is an asset in drawing potential customers who may be just passing by and see the entire mall layout and stores.

The mall has experienced some very good news with the grand opening of a new Goodwill Store and Donation Center, located at the former CVS Pharmacy store.

At the Fairlane Village Mall, searching for new tenants and retaining current ones never changes in good and bad economic conditions, according to Robert Carson, executive vice president with Levin Management Corporation, which leases and manages the mall.

"The economy is challenging. There's no doubt about that, but I would say that we've been at least successful in bringing some new national tenants to Fairlane Village Mall the past few years," said Carson.

Most recently that has included Kohl's and Michael's Arts and Crafts, and before that it was Dollar Tree, Super Shoes, Harbor Freight and Amelia's.

"It is challenging, but we do have our leasing people here who are continually contacting national tenants, as well reaching out to the local community to see what interest they might have in coming to the mall."

Carson said the mall has to work hard to find new tenants, along with dealing with a loss, such as Roman Delight, which closed within the last month without prior notice. He said there were about seven months left on the lease.