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Members of the community have been asked to give Penn feedback on how to improve University City’s retail offerings.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Penn’s Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services conducted four focus groups with representatives from Streetsense, a consulting firm working with the University, and Michael Salove Company, the University’s retail broker.

FRES sent out emails to advertise the focus groups through the Undergraduate Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and to faculty and other University staff.

This is a follow-up to FRES’s January online survey of students, faculty, staff and neighborhood residents to gather information about buying patterns and what kinds of people frequent what types of retail stores in University City. Over 1,700 responses were submitted.

“There is surprisingly little research in how university students spend their money,” Heather Arnold, director of research and analysis at Streetsense, said. “We are trying to find a way to explain to retailers that there is more potential [in a university environment].”

At Tuesday night’s focus group only two people showed up, but eight people attended the session on Wednesday at noon.

The point of the focus groups is to supplement the responses from the online survey and “to get personal feedback on the spending habits and retail demands [of the community],” said Jacob Cooper, vice president of MSC who co-conducted Wednesday’s focus group.

Arnold also conducted the focus group, asking students questions such as where they commonly eat lunch and how far they are willing to travel to eat.

Wednesday afternoon’s focus group was filled with five undergraduates, one graduate student and two women who work at the University’s alumni relations office.

“I want to see improvements,” College junior Kelly Rhodes said, who attended Wednesday’s focus group. “I don’t want to have to worry about where I’m going to eat [because] it takes away from class work.”

Mia Garuccio, a College junior, also attended the meeting after hearing about it from UA Steering.

“Being an RA makes me aware of what’s on campus because I’m buying for 30 students and not just myself,” Garuccio, an RA in the Quad, said. “These [meetings] need to happen more often.”

Those who attended the focus groups were open to sharing their opinions about the retail spaces that already exist on campus as well as information about new types of stores they would like to see in the area.

“The focus groups have confirmed data from the online survey, but they also provide great feedback and [inform us of] different trends that we didn’t find in the survey,” Cooper said.

FRES, along with Streetsense and MSC, will be combining the responses from the focus group and the online survey to produce an updated version of the University’s master retail plan. The hope is that these efforts will bring welcomed changes to University City that will benefit students, faculty and neighborhood residents alike.

“It would be nice to have more options,” said assistant director for alumni education and alumni travel Emilie LaRosa, who attended one of the focus groups. “I’m invested in the community and I want it to be better.”

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