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Virtual Mall to aid brick-and-mortar stores opens Monday

What may be the first Virtual Mall in the United States is slated to open Monday.

According to a news release, this venture into virtual reality is the brainchild of entrepreneur Art Lieberman, who owns several companies in Central Pennsylvania, many of which deal with credit card processing.

The idea came along as Lieberman took notice that brick-and-mortar businesses in his locale were being devastated by COVID-19. He thought creating a mall where people could order from locals without leaving their homes might help the stores survive.

Lieberman found his software provider in Exhibitor Connect with an agreement that video chat would allow for the communication vital to such a market.

Next, store owners would have to agree to take stores in the mall. Lieberman wanted to make it as inexpensive as possible and suggested a price of only $100 a week or $400 a month. But after almost 2 months, only one store had committed to the project. Fortunately, it was a huge furniture store, Plaza House Furniture, with a branch in two locations.

But it wasn’t long before it became apparent that even $400 a month was too much for pandemic-stricken stores to afford and Lieberman decided to give stores away for two months, at no charge, the news release said. This also included the design of the store and actually paying for the store’s placement in the mall software. Then, with the help of media company Seven Mountains Media, the designs of Heidi Criswell, a promotional gateway website created and maintained by ResNexus and Lieberman’s own salesforce, his dream started to take place. Lieberman spent tens of thousands of dollars in order to market the stores with local papers and radio stations.

On Monday, shoppers can log in to the gateway website: www.sunvirtualmall.net and see the promotional material and shopping instructions there. They might also see ads placed by various companies. The actual “Mall Entrance” is there too, the news release said.

After clicking on the entranceway, the virtual mall will appear and the shopper can register with their name, phone number and e-mail address, the latter being all that is needed to re-enter the mall in the future.

Then, a list of stores will appear. The shopper may select a store by name, by type of store or by city where they want to shop. After clicking on the storefront, the shopper will be “inside” the store, which will be either the owner’s website, menu, or static design explaining and picturing what they sell or the service they provide. If the store has opted in for the video chat, that too will be on the screen inside the store. The shopper’s name will appear so the store owner can greet them.

Finally, the shopper may go to the next or previous store (alphabetically) or back to the lobby to see the lists of stores — or just log out of the mall altogether, according to the news release.

For more information about the mall, or to participate in it, either log on to the aforementioned website or call 570-308-7700.

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