A Publication of WTVP

From marketing assistance to business plan development, Metro Centre goes above and beyond the typical retail center when it comes to supporting its tenants.

Most independent business owners operate, well, independently. Launching the company, working through a tough economy or changing locations are jobs for business owners to navigate. Small, family-owned businesses often struggle to find the guidance they need to flourish without support from the outside.

But one shopping community in the heart of Peoria has gained a reputation for its friendliness toward the small, “mom-and-pop” shop. Founded in 1971 by Marvin Goodman, Metro Centre has operated with a purposeful emphasis on supporting local and family-owned businesses from the start.

“Marv always tried real hard to get locally-owned businesses in the center,” affirmed Rich Pestien, owner and president of Bushwhacker. The outdoor specialty shop has made its home at Metro Centre since 1985, when Pestien was encouraged to move from his former location on the corner of Main and University.

“Marv seemed to want us,” he added. “He said, ‘You know, Rich, your business will increase 30 percent the first year, 20 percent the second year and 10 percent the third.’ I said, ‘That’d be nice!’ But he was wrong. It was 33 percent the first, 22 percent the second and 11 percent the third. The guy was sharp. And his grandson is doing a great job.”

Passing the Torch
Goodman’s grandson, Eric Brinker, has given this family tradition new life since taking over the reins in 2007. “My grandfather’s vision for Metro Centre was a place that local, family-owned businesses could thrive in the middle of the city—sort of a community,” said Brinker. “He had that vision over 30 years ago.”

And Brinker has made sure that 30-year tradition continues. “It was my grandfather’s vision, and we’re just building on it. It’s now a shared family vision because our family has ties to Peoria,” he explained. “We really want Metro Centre to be another way that our family is giving back to the community.”

Of more than 45 Metro Centre businesses, all but a handful are locally owned. “While some may be franchises, they have local owners,” noted Brinker. “Almost all of them are family-owned.”

A New Lease on Life
Bags & Co. is one of those companies. Founded in 2005 by Vern and Regina Avery, it started out with a different name, location and even slightly different merchandise. When they inquired about leasing space at Metro Centre, Brinker and Metro Centre General Manager Jason Fuller sat down with the Averys to discuss ways to improve their business before moving.

They all agreed that the shop, then called Jewelry Accessory Outlet, or JAO, needed a new name, so they compared ideas. “And actually, the first one [Brinker] came out with, Bags and Co…my wife and I just looked at each other and said, ‘That’s great,’” recalled Vern.

After selecting the name, Brinker contacted a graphic designer to create a new logo for the company, before setting the Averys up with people who could make a new business sign. “They’re not obligated to do anything for me,” said Vern, “but they’ll bend over backwards to do whatever they can.”

He speaks glowingly of Brinker’s devotion to the success of his tenants, noting that when he travels on business, he will often stop to take photos of similar shops and email them to him for ideas. “How many people would do that? He’s always looking out [for us].”

In Business Together
Pottstown Meat & Deli has also benefited greatly from Metro Centre’s friendliness toward family businesses. Bob and Katie Barth’s shop is a fourth-generation meat business that got its start in the 1940s. It’s changed names, locations and ownership several times, but what’s stayed consistent is the Barths’ dedication to each other and to their business.

The only missing link all those years was a location whose owner supported those same ideals. Then, in 2006, the shop found a home at Metro Centre. “[Brinker and Fuller] understand that you need a certain amount of family time,” said Barth. “They realize that you’ve got to be able to draw that line…and go home at the end of the day and spend time with family.”

“A perfect example,” he continued, “is when Eric and Jason first came on board.” While they encouraged Metro Centre businesses to stay open late for holiday shopping, several shop owners explained that they had different priorities. And so, Pottstown was one of the first shops at the center to close on Christmas Eve. “It’s been a tradition in our family for years, where we all get together and go to Mass,” explained Barth, adding that Brinker and Fuller were very understanding of this family tradition.

Brinker and Fuller have helped the Barths on the business side of things as well, encouraging them to try different strategies on the shop’s website and to get on social networking sites to create more of an online presence. They also assisted in creating taglines, as well as marketing and advertising campaigns, which ran on area billboards. “Our tenants are like our partners, and we’re in business together,” explained Brinker. “If they succeed, we succeed.

Barth also enjoys the community at Metro Centre. “Where we came from [before], it was just a business on its own. Now, you’ve got neighbors that you might go next door and do a promotion with,” he explained. “It just gives you a lot more opportunities to pool ideas together.”

A Step Further
Besides individual attention to the center’s small businesses, Brinker and Fuller take their services a step further. “We have a ‘town hall’ here at Metro Centre…and we do town hall meetings,” said Brinker. “We use it as a space to bring everybody together to brainstorm ideas and present concepts to them. We also bring in guest speakers. Having that forum for our tenants has been very valuable.”

Brinker also finds creative ways to increase traffic to his tenants’ shops while giving back to the community. Metro Centre hosts events throughout the year, from sidewalk sales to “Movies Under the Stars,” building on the local events his grandfather started years ago. These events are intended to give families something fun to do, enhance the center’s community feel and bring new people into the area so they know what it has to offer. “It gets people just thinking about coming to Metro Centre,” noted Pestien. “That’s always been the big plus.”

And local charities benefit as well. “Movies Under the Stars,” for example, helps The Salvation Army, as well as local schools and churches. Brinker supplies everything for the movies, including popcorn and drinks, and the charities set up booths to sell snacks for $1. Each charity keeps the money it makes from the evening’s sales.

It’s all more than enough to keep Metro Centre tenants happy. Neither Barth, Pestien nor Avery have any intention of leaving; in fact, Barth and his wife recently signed a 10-year contract. “We like it here,” he said. “We don’t want to go anywhere else.”

“I’d like to stay here forever, ‘til I drop,” joked Pestien. The Averys would like to stay at Metro Centre long-term too, and have plans to expand the shop to a larger location in the center if all goes well.

If the center is a haven for family businesses, perhaps that’s because Brinker himself knows what it’s like. “They say you’re not supposed to get emotionally attached to a property,” he claimed. “But our family is emotionally attached to this property because it represents something my grandfather built. We’re very passionate about maintaining the quality here, and maintaining the kinds of tenants that we have.” iBi