The new Lawrence Village Plaza owner says he is excited about the prospect of filling its empty storefronts.

Ron Strawn, one of two partners of Sandmar Properties LLC, said they hope to bring in an independent grocer, a day care center, an Internet cafe and a woman’s exercise facility.

Plans for some of those could be solidified within a week, he said Thursday.

Sandmar purchased the plaza on Ellwood Road in Shenango Township for $7.15 million from Lawrence Village Land Co. on Aug. 9.

“We’re excited about it,” said Strawn, who has a silent partner. He has studied the area and the plaza and has ideas about upgrading it.

Since his company formed two years ago, it has bought 10 plazas throughout the eastern United States, including a shopping center in York.

“We try to buy plazas with great locations that need some tender loving care,” he said.

The partners plan to make cosmetic improvements that include lighting, landscaping and facade, “but we’re still 60 to 90 days away from anyone seeing any differences yet,” Strawn said.

The partners are looking at two designs and have consulted an architect based in Washington, D.C.

He called the existing facade “interesting,” and said he is considering leaving the multi-colored slats in place but making them all one color.

So far, Sandmar has established a good relationship with the existing tenants, he said, adding, “We have a good core group of them.”

The tenants in the 45-year-old shopping center include: Pizza Joe’s, Dunham’s, the Great Wall, a Hallmark store, a dollar store, Elham middle-Eastern restaurant, two banks and other stores. The plaza also includes a free-standing K-Mart.

Strawn said he is negotiating with a grocer based in Washington, D.C. The company, which owns 20 stores, “runs a good operation and is focused on value,” he said. The stores, he said, have middle-range pricing and good quality.

“It would be perfect for that market,” he said.

Other businesses he hopes to sign leases with shortly are a woman’s fitness center, a day care and an Internet cafe.

He said he is optimistic about the new venture, commenting, “People are very nice in New Castle.”

Joe Saad, president of the Lawrence Village Merchants Association and 21-year owner of the plaza’s Pizza Joe’s shop, said he is hopeful the change will benefit all businesses in the plaza, especially with the prospect of a grocery store.

Sandmar representatives met with the merchants recently to discuss their plans.

Saad said his pizza shop still has two years left in its contract with the previous plaza owners. After that he has an option to renew for five more years.

“I’m planning to stay around,” he said. “I’ll finish the last two years of my lease and see how things are going.”

He said the general feeling among the businesses in the plaza at first was nervousness. However, after talking to Strawn about the plans, Saad said, “I feel good about it. If they get some new businesses in the plaza, it’s going to be good for everybody.”

Sandmar representatives visited the township building to ask questions about zoning and local codes. They submitted preliminary drawings, said Shenango Township supervisor Larry Herman.

“They’re on a very heavy marketing campaign,” Herman said. “They’re being very aggressive and I’m happy about it. They want the plaza full, and they want to fix it all up.”

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