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Mall becomes DeWitt social hub

Despite the hard economic times that have millions of Americans holding tight to their money, shopping malls across the country, such as DeWitt's Shoppingtown Mall, are using new techniques to draw shoppers to their facilities.

With the addition of a gymnastics gymnasium, a theater stage, teen centers and fitness studio, the mall is slowly transforming itself from a barren ghost town into a social hub for the surrounding community.

"A mall doesn't just have to be a place to go shopping," said Sandy Graham, marketing manager for the Shoppingtown and Great Northern malls. "There can be much more to the experience than buying an outfit and buying perfume, then going home."

With more than 16 empty storefronts in the Sears wing alone, there is plenty of opportunity to bring in non-retail businesses to entertain people of all ages.

"While the mall waits for the economy to turn around and fill itself with retail stores, they're opening the space up to the community, which is a great thing," said Marcie Erelbacher, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Syracuse.

The JCC plans on opening a teen center in the mall that would act as an after-school program for grades seven through 10, providing homework help and a place to hang out, as well as a venue for special events.

"It's a win-win situation for everyone right now," she said. "The mall is making rent affordable for community businesses, we are filling an empty store space and the community is offered the services."

The center is set to open in mid to late October.

Other businesses that have taken up residence along the strip between Sears and Dicks Sporting Goods include Core Fitness, Syracuse Musketeer's Fencing, Inner Circle Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, a Junior Achievement Center and Tara Stage.

Cheryl Ann Costa, line producer and playwright in residence for the theater group Dragon Lady Players, said she has seen a positive turnout for the shows at Tara Stage, which they began renting in late April.

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