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Johnstown Galleria's Storage Wars


The owner of Johnstown Galleria mall in Johnstown, Pennsylvania is mad and ready to go to court, following the sale of the former Sears to a storage company.

Johnstown Galleria is a two story mall, which according to their website, has typical mall staples (Hot Topic, GNC, Claire’s, Auntie Anne’s), but is otherwise populated by local businesses.  It is owned by Leo Karruli, who is a longtime business owner in the area. In 2022, he purchased the mall at auction for $3m, pledging to bring the mall back from death. , From what I’ve read, he’s doing just that. He took an entire dead food court and repopulated it with local businesses, and it looks to be working well in the interior of the mall, too. The mall has very few empty spaces.

I have yet to visit Johnstown Galleria, but it is on my map of places to visit, especially after reading about all of the revitalization and seeing the fountain in Ray Out There's Johnstown walk-through (hot tip: rayoutthere is also a great IG follow!).

The mall has four anchor spaces: JCPenney, Boscov’s, an empty Bon-Ton, and an empty Sears. Anchor stores at malls are generally owned by the companies themselves, not by the mall. The Sears closed in 2018, and as we’ve seen in other markets, they tend to sit on their property longer. The mall itself was bought for $3m at auction in 2022. When the Sears went up for auction in 2023, Karruli bid, but ended up being outbid by a storage company.

Like the mall itself, Karruli is taking matters into his own hands. He’s started a petition to Save the Mall from the storage spaces, which to date has 3,500 signatures and growing. He has done news appearances and recently appeared in court to oppose the use of Sears as storage spaces.

Malls are no stranger to the scavenger bird known as the storage company. Locally, I watched Storage of America move from carcass to carcass of dying malls in Akron. It originally set up shop at the former Rolling Acres Mall, not even removing the old neon bones of the mid nineties Target that came before it. Before demolition, they moved to the midcentury af former Macy’s at the rapidly declining (and now repurposed) Chapel Hill Mall. I love the gorgeous midcentury Storage of America, but I also remember when that was a Macy’s, where the people renting the storage spaces likely are now storing some of those purchases inside of the store itself. It’s a weird circle of life.

Two malls came to mind for me: Beaver Valley Mall, and Chapel Hill Mall. Both malls had storage spaces as anchors. At Beaver Valley, they also had the Easter bunny setup at this end of the mall, and it was still completely empty. 

I documented Chapel Hill Mall closely; not because of an emotional tie to it, but because I was able to. I visited monthly starting in 2017, and slowly went to weekly and daily as the mall closed. In my experience, when Storage of America opened at Chapel Hill, it did nothing for that end of the mall. The mall remained empty, and the businesses surrounding it started to leave, too. My photos of that end of the mall got progressively darker, from the loss of light in the retail spaces. 

From that perspective, I see why Karruli wouldn’t want a storage space moving into the end of the mall that he’s doing a pretty damn good job with revitalizing. Why would he? 

But also, it’s now a dispute between two private owners. I’ll be curious to see how it all works out. I do love a good, scrappy mall owner story. There's another story out of western Pennsylvania and even Ohio that is similar; I'll update about that, too.


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