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USA TODAY

Every community, whether it knows it or not, needs a mall.

Not just for shopping purposes, but also as a gathering place to meet friends, grab a bite to eat or just take a stroll on a quiet morning before shoppers arrive in earnest. In short, a mall can help give a community its identity.

Lebanon, whether it knows it or not, needs the Lebanon Valley Mall. And Friday it’s going to get it back.

As Lebanon County finally enters the green phase of COVID-19 business re-opening, the Lebanon Valley Mall, located off West Cumberland Street (Route 422 West) in Lebanon, will again open its doors after more than three months sitting idle as one of many economic casualties of the pandemic.

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Things will be different, though. Mall manager Michelle Tuscano estimates about 20 percent of the stores inside will not re-open or soon close their doors for good. And for the time being, hours will be reduced from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Masks also will be required for all shoppers. 

Yes, it will be different. But the mall will still be back and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“It’s been hard for retail,” Tuscano said. “It was hard prior to the COVID, and coming out of it there are definitely companies that have already announced they are closing, and it’s hitting the Lebanon Valley Mall. If I had to estimate, I’d say it’s going to hit 20 percent, which for a small center like us is actually quite substantial.”

Tuscano declined to name the stores that will be leaving, but is confident that the mall will still have a future, albeit likely with fewer retail stores. 

“Prior to the shutdown and the pandemic, we were already on a 5-year plan to kind of redevelop the mall,” she said. “But with the pandemic and the retail environment what it is coming out of this, it’s just speeding along that process. We hope that the Lebanon Valley Mall will continue to serve the community of Lebanon, it just might be in a different aspect instead of just retail.”

The good news for traditional mall shoppers is that LVM’s anchor stores – Boscov’s, Hobby Lobby, Price Rite food market – were able to re-open sooner than the mall itself. Price Rite, in fact, never closed due to being an essential business and Mancino’s Pizza also stayed open throughout the pandemic, providing take-out service to customers. So the mall is not starting from scratch in trying to attract customers again.

“It was a huge help to especially have Boscov’s and Hobby Lobby open,” Tuscano said. “And having Price Rite open throughout the shutdown was also a huge help.”

“But that didn’t stop the rumors,” she added, with a laugh. “But I can assure you we’re not (closing the mall).”

Which is good news for anyone who feels a connection to the Lebanon Valley Mall.

“It’s not only a shopping destination,” she said. “We open our doors to blood drives, to people that want to come out and hand out information (during election season). We have health fairs, we have community events. That’s really our sole purpose here, to assist the community.”

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