The sign at the Perkins restaurant construction site last week read: “Opening Soon — Now Hiring Managers.”
That was a common theme across the region in 2013 and into early 2014, as stores and restaurants opened, moved or spruced up.
Activity can be found on all points of the Centre Region compass, from the bustling North Atherton Street corridor to a strong rebound along South Atherton Street and a surge on College Avenue/Benner Pike.
The new Perkins, opening in the coming weeks at the entrance to Eastview Plaza on Benner Pike, will be the latest addition to that busy shopping area, which was fully remodeled to welcome an Advance Auto Parts store and a Quaker Steak and Lube eatery.
Perkins’ former State College location, on South Atherton, is now home to a brand new IHOP restaurant, in a neighborhood that also boasts a new CVS Pharmacy, a remodeled Weis supermarket and an expanded Home Delivery Pizza Pub.
The North Atherton corridor is exploding, with the Trader Joe’s Plaza filling up quickly and other spots gaining tenants.
“It is encouraging to see Centre County’s retail and service sector — which now represents a larger cross-section of the county’s economy — continue to thrive,” said Vern Squier, president and CEO of the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County.
“In addition to these new small business opportunities, residents and visitors alike have many options of where to shop and dine, which adds to our overall quality of life and our attractiveness to new residents and businesses.”
January saw Gardners Candies open in the T.J. Maxx Plaza and Gap Factory Outlet join the rush to the Trader Joe’s Plaza.
Both left spots at the Nittany Mall to enter the region Charles Kranich, of Kranich’s Jewelry, called “the commercial hub of Centre County.” Kranich’s opened a large store along North Atherton in 2012.
Gardners President Sam Phillips said he was happy at the mall, but the new spot near Wal-Mart, Best Buy and other stores is a “much bigger space” for the Tyrone-based candy maker’s goods and customers.
The Trader Joe’s Plaza also opened in late 2012, and the host store on Patriot Lane now shares the space with Gap, Old Navy and Ulta just a block off North Atherton. Men’s Warehouse will reportedly join the mix soon.
El Jalisco Mexican restaurant opened at 2105 N. Atherton St. in 2013, the former home of Otto’s Pub.
Two exits of Interstate 99 serve the North Atherton corridor, which is home to the Colonnade shopping area.
“There are a lot of people that like to shop on this side of town,” Kranich said.
Merchants along South Atherton Street have plenty to smile about, too.
Weis Markets finished two expansions recently, $8.3 million in work at its Rolling Ridge Drive location, off South Atherton, and at another site nearby on Westerly Parkway.
The Rolling Ridge Drive store was expanded by 1,500 square feet and now boasts a new façade and upgrades throughout, such as larger produce, dairy and frozen-food departments.
By July, the McDonald’s in the adjacent Hills Plaza will join other McDonald’s in the State College market as it gets a complete overhaul.
And down the street, Home Delivery Pizza Pub doubled its seating capacity and added microbrew beer, while CVS Pharmacy opened a new store and IHOP launched its first site in Centre County, both in the 1600 block.
“This area completely revamped itself,” John McQueary, who owns State College Framing Co., in the Weis plaza, said last year.
Things are even new at The Autoport, a local fixture at 1405 S. Atherton St.
The restaurant’s owner, Greg Mussi, recently formed a partnership with Clem Pantalone, of Clem’s BBQ fame, to form Clem’s Roadside Bar and Grill.
Pantalone called the venture “a great collaboration.”
“The good news is, South Atherton appears to be on an upswing,” said Jim May of the Centre Region Planning Agency.
So is the area of Benner Pike where the 132-seat Perkins is taking shape.
Last spring, work began to transform the former Cinema 6 site into a busy shopping and dining area.
After a $1 million renovation project, the strip is the new home of Advance Auto and Quaker Steak while offering an upgrade for tenants Big Lots, Stover’s Furniture and JoAnn Fabrics.
Rey Azteca Mexican restaurant is beside the plaza to the west.
To the east, Stocker Chevrolet is completing an expansion along Benner Pike to complement its new Subaru dealership behind the plaza on Dreibelbis Road.
“We were growing pretty quickly,” Stocker Subaru General Manager Corey Stocker said at a grand opening in October. “I guess if we’re going to have a problem, having too much business would be a good problem to have.”
Last June, Philly Pretzel Factory opened inside the Benner Pike Wal-Mart store and Dickie’s Barbecue arrived at the plaza next door.
“Clearly, the redevelopment activity that’s occurring at Eastview Plaza is a positive thing,” College Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh said.
“That area is still and always was a prime shopping area and region,” added Ed Friedman, president of Friedman Real Estate Group, which manages Eastview Plaza.
In January, Dickie’s announced it would add a second area location, at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center.
Other county newcomers in the past year would include Happy Valley Brewing Co. off College Avenue near Lemont, and two businesses near Bellefonte: Klaban’s Home Furnishings and TJ Colts restaurant, both in the 2900 block of Benner Pike.
Bill Klaban, also owner of Tubbies in College Township, opened his latest venture at the former home of Wolf Furniture — which left in 2007 and now is among the businesses enjoying that busy North Atherton Street stretch in Patton Township.
“It became time for us to move into a bigger space that allows us to have a store with good visibility and a convenient location for our customers,” Klaban said.
“Our vision for the future is a dynamic economy, one that supports greater private industry investment and professional opportunities, in addition to a strong retail sector,” the CBICC’s Squier said. “This is the kind of balance we need moving forward. This will be the scope of the CBICC’s economic development program of work.”