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A Store of Their Own

Let's face it. The average teenage-run business isn't likely to have Bill Gates scrambling to retool his next product line, or Henry Ford cheering from the great Mustang factory in the sky.

Yes, we've all seen the good, cheap, high school carwash. And the honest, if amateurish, lawn-mowing operation. Character-builders? Sure. Provide some extra cash? You bet. Pinnacles of profit? Odds are, not yet.

But fear not. The spirit of adolescent American invention lives on—in Harrisburg, Pa., on the second story of a shopping mall.

That's where a group of students from Harrisburg High School launched Mid-Penn Apparel, a clothing and retail shop run by teenagers, selling outfits targeted mostly to their peers.

Organized by Harrisburg High's School of Business and Industry Prep Program—SBI for short—the store sells T-shirts and sweatshirts, letter jackets and caps, key- chains and notebook paper. Many of the goods in Mid-Penn, located in the Harrisburg East Mall, bear Harrisburg High's logos, but the inventory includes items carrying the names and colors of other, nearby schools, too.

While program director Clenistine N. Dunson has no firm estimate of sales, she says demand for Mid-Penn's products has grown steadily since it opened in October. Helped by local sponsors and a partnership with Florida A&M University, SBI opened its first store, a precursor to Mid-Penn called the Cougar Den, inside the school in 1993.

Teenagers oversee almost all of the day-to-day work. They arrange orders with vendors and market the clothes to local high schools, as well as handling nitty-gritty labor like stocking shelves. The payoff: The business-and-industry program raises college-scholarship money for its students—$108,000 since its inception in 1991, Ms. Dunson said.

Richard C. Brickus III, a junior, dreams of going to medical school and running his own hospital. For now, his specialty is sharp duds, not surgeons' scrubs. Mid- Penn will make it, he says. After all: location, location, location.

"Everybody goes to the mall," said Mr. Brickus, 16. Spoken like the sharpest Madison Avenue marketeer. One who knows his core customer—sees him every day in the mirror, in fact.

"Sometimes a vendor comes in and says, 'I wouldn't wear that,' " Ms. Dunson said. "Of course you wouldn't wear that. You're 50 years old!"

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 22, Issue 16, Page 3

Published in Print: January 8, 2003, as Take Note

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