February 11, 1972. Two men, James O'rourke and James Streeter, both of whom have been working for a Michigan shopping center developer, form a company called Unimich Development Corporation. Soon after its development, the two start doing marketing surveys in central and western PA.
With a business backing on a loan for $10,000, the two men proceed to develop a 620,000-square-foot shopping mall with parking to accommodate 2,700 cars. The 35 acres site was in Richland Twp., on Elton Road, near the industrial park and the Elton Road interchange on Rt. 219.
The two men added Steve Clause, Ron Sabin and Ray Kisor as partners. They arranged additional loans totaling $160,000 from Somerset Trust Company.
On April 30, 1972, Unimich signed the first of 15 land purchase options. The project was announced to the public. Zoning issues were faced and resolved. Out-of-court settlements were reached to lawsuits instituted by nearby property owners. Without publicity or fanfare, a legally vesting groundbreaking took place on April 30, 1973; exactly one year after the first property option had been signed.
January 1974. The Unimich Corp., operating locally as the Richland Mall Associates, signed 3 anchor stores - Sears, Kmart and Penn Traffic. Commitments from 87 other smaller stores had also been secured. Less than 20% of the projected floor space remained unsecured. The Richland Mall Kmart would make the first time a Kmart would be in an enclosed shopping mall. Penn Traffic was a Johnstown institution and Sears would be giving up its new facility in the University Park Shopping Village.
With cost estimates, plans and signed letters of intent, the partners were able to secure a construction loan of $6 million.
Even as the shops were preparing their merchandise and displays, work was ongoing. Most were ready by mid October 1974 when Kmart and Penn Traffic began running promotional ads. Sears conducted a pre-moving sale during the last week in October in preparation for its mall opening in November. The Richland Mall was fully operational by the Christmas Season of 1974. From its early roster of tenants, the mall had some national know chains such as McDonald’s, Hickory Farms, and Waldenbooks, along with some local stores such as the Hello Shop, Thrift Drugs and Johnstown Saving Bank.
Taken from “Johnstown, Pennsylvania, A History Part Two 1937-1980” by Randy Whittle
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