Harbor Freight

Harbor Freight Tools is planning to open a store in the former Peebles location at the Park Avenue Plaza later this year.

VERNON TOWNSHIP — The building which once held the Meadville-area Peebles has a new tenant, as Harbor Freight Tools has announced its intentions to open the location in late November.

Harbor Freight banners have been thrown up around 18910 Park Avenue Plaza, with the company's website listing the address as a future storefront. Craig Hoffman, director of communications with Harbor Freight, confirmed with the Tribune the business's intention to open up a location there, saying a lease agreement was finalized recently.

The once-Peebles store has seen a wide amount of change in recent years. It was converted in February 2020 to a Gordmans — another kind of department store run by Peebles' owners State Stores Inc. However, Stage Stores filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter in May 2020, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meadville Medical Center utilized the space from March of this year through the end of June as a clinic for COVID-19 vaccines. It has sat empty since.

Hoffman said Harbor Freight has been looking at opening a Crawford County location for around a year now, born out of a desire to provide a more convenient location for customers in the area.

"Right now, if you're a customer in the area, you have to go half an hour to Cranberry or the same distance to Erie," said Hoffman.

Harbor Freight sells more than 7,000 products, ranging from power tools and power generators to automobile repair equipment. Hoffman said the business aims to keep prices low by buying its products directly from manufacturers.

Planning to utilize the entirety of the space, Hoffman said the new location would be on the upper end of Harbor Freight stores, though still smaller than "big box" stores. As many Harbor Freight customers are contractors, Hoffman said a relatively smaller space allows shoppers to get the items they need and get back out to their work sites.

The store will be the first Harbor Freight in Crawford County and the 50th location in Pennsylvania.

Harbor Freight plans to hire between 25 to 30 workers for the new storefront. Hoffman said interested workers can apply by visiting harborfreightjobs.com/retail and searching for Meadville.

Hoffman noted the company has received accolades from Forbes as an employer. The business magazine ranked Harbor Freight as the best employer for veterans in 2020 and as the 192nd best employer for women in 2021.

While searching for locations, Hoffman said Harbor Freight looks for communities that have a promising job applicant pool.

"We certainly think Meadville has that," he said.

A soft opening will be held somewhere around the end of November, though no exact date has been decided. The soft opening will give the staff time to get used to their positions, with a grand opening planned for mid-December.

McBrier Properties, owners of the location, gave no comment when contacted about Harbor Freight moving in.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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