After years of uncertainty, the new owner of The Johnstown Galleria said he’s already getting down to work to try and bring the mall back as a local shopping destination.
And while it’s no secret that the shopping mall industry has fallen on hard times in recent years, Leo Karruli said he saw the potential in the suburban Johnstown facility that will celebrate its 30th anniversary later this month.
“Soon as I seen (the mall) at the auction and looking at the pictures and everything, I fell in love,” Karruli said. “I said ‘oh my God this mall is beautiful.'”
That, and the opportunities it presented, is why Karruli said he bid more than $3 million to take over as its new owner.
But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For the past decade, stores and customers have been walking out as ownership has changed hands and The Galleria ended up in foreclosure.
“It’s a shame that the mall could go down,”
But Karruli told 6 News his hands-on approach, working seven days a week at all hours of the day inside the mall’s offices, is already helping turn the tide.
“I have some places already filled,” Karruli said, adding he has most of the food court now rented out and other prospective occupants looking at the mall this week. “I’m trying to fill the best I can.”
Born in Albania and raised in Italy, Karruli said he first came to America to work in the restaurant industry. Since then he’s become a restaurateur and commercial property owner in Florida and the Carolinas.
Karruli said as an on-site manager who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, he’s providing a personal touch that a corporate owner cannot.
“I’m not ashamed to go and clean the bathroom or clean the toilet,” he said. “I came from the low class and still I’m a regular person, I don’t consider myself, ‘Oh, I’m the owner I can’t touch those.”
He said with him being the only man to provide an answer, he’s already working on fresh enhancements, more storefronts, and community events.
He’s also promising that after the spring thaw he will begin fixing something that customers have long lamented, the pothole-ridden roads and parking lots.
“The parking lot is my main concern,” Karruli said. “I come to park the car, (the parking assist) doesn’t know where to park, do you park left or right?”
There still will be the potential for some bumps in the road. Given the complex ownership structure of the mall complex, he doesn’t own all the anchor stores and surrounding businesses. But he says he’s working with those other owners to bring everyone on board with his vision.
“I’m talking to them to get connections so if I do something those people have to do the part too so (it looks) nice for the community and to look good for Johnstown,” Karruli said.
Karruli said it will take that community support to bring The Galleria back to its former glory.
“By working together with the people, word of mouth, and people talking to other people, (it will) bring the business back to the mall,”