There are limited nearby clothing stores for Athens residents, forcing many people to either shop online or drive long distances to go to a mall with more variety.
The only shopping mall in Athens is The Market on State Street, located at 1002 E. State St. However, The Market on State Street may more closely resemble a strip mall—a shopping mall consisting of stores and restaurants arranged in a row. The only clothing options in the mall are Label Shopper, Tractor Supply Co., Maurices and Dunham's Sports.
Many may think of a mall with large outfitters, department stores, food courts and entertainment options. After The Market on State Street, the closest mall to Athens with more options is nearly 45 minutes away—the Grand Central Mall, located at 100 Grand Central Mall, Vienna, West Virginia.
Although there are shopping options in Athens, including Walmart at 929 E. State St. and Marshalls at 743 E. State St., the stores may have unsatisfying styles or sizing. Well-known retailers like Old Navy and Target are also around 30 miles away. Because it’s secluded from a variety of large retailers, Athens can be considered a fashion desert.
"There are things that many people who live in Athens, both (students) and (the) community, would like to have that we don't," Paul Benedict, associate professor of instruction in management and executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, said.
Tom Parfitt, co-owner, alongside Brent Hayes, of The Market on State Street, said the mall used to consist of three big stores: JCPenny, Elder-Beerman, and Big Bear Stores. However, he said these once-popular stores were poorly managed, which resulted in an extensive loss of shopping opportunities in Athens for years after the stores closed.
Parfitt said the mall has been around since 1988, but he and Hayes took ownership of it nearly 20 years after its previous owners, Elder-Beerman – a chain of department stores – went bankrupt.
Parfitt said the lack of popular clothing stores makes attracting people to The Market on State Street difficult.
"But in our case, we think it's a little different ... (Athens is) kind of isolated. We don't have a lot to pick from," Parfitt said.
Benedict said that because Athens is a college town, there are many opportunities and challenges with adding new business to the area.
When the student population leaves in the winter and summer months, it eliminates a lot of potential profit for stores, especially when clothing stores project to make the most money during those times, Benedict said.
"In retail, most businesses are doing their best to survive, breakeven, maybe (remain) marginally profitable during … most of the first 11 months," Benedict said. "Then the last month, last month and a half, during the holidays, is when they're really making most of their profit for the year."
However, he said adding more shopping centers to Athens is not a lost cause.
"Certainly there's money here, there's an opportunity here, both in serving the student population (and) otherwise … I think it just means that entrepreneurs here need to be smart and make sure that they're presenting their products or services in a way that fits with what is unique about this community," Benedict said.
Parfitt said The Market on State is preparing to sign a contract with a big box store before Nov. 1. However, he said he can only announce what the store will be after signing the contract.
Parfitt said he hopes construction for the new store – which will cost about $30,000 to build – will start in January or February 2024 so the store can be ready by June 2024.
"This place that we're getting in now will, in my opinion, address a lot of people's needs, and I think the whole community will be happy about it, students included," Parfitt said.