• Alexander Heller

Malls re-open in a post pandemic world

| By Peter Planamente |


As states head further down the road into recovery from COVID-19, more places begin re-opening. The most recent phase in New Jersey includes shopping malls, which have been closed since March. How different will malls look as customers begin shopping in-person again? The change is quite different from what you may be used to.




SANITATION


Like other retailers and restaurants, mall managers have been coming up with new ways to keep the malls cleaned and customers healthy.


At the Cherry Hill Mall, hand sanitizer stations will be setup at each entrance and throughout the mall. Maintenance crews will clean highly touched surfaces and seating areas will be removed, which includes food courts. Kids play areas will remain closed.


Stickers are placed on the floor to stay socially distanced from other people in the mall and individual stores. Other malls will be following similar protocols to keeping customers safe.



CUSTOMER SAFETY


Malls will be monitoring how many people come in and out of the building. Some use an app that tracks, in real time, how many people are coming into each entrance and each store.


Another protocol that local mall owner PREIT, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, has in place is children and teens need to be accompanied by an adult over 18 years of age, due to limited capacity. This rule is in place at Cherry Hill, Moorestown and the Cumberland Mall in Vineland.



Each individual store inside the mall will have a limited capacity for customers. This means that people may have to wait in a long line outside of the store before going in to shop, just like waiting outside of the supermarket.


Another recent trend some malls have begun to do is allow customers to schedule appointments to visit certain stores inside of your local mall. This would control the number of people inside a store and enough time for employees to sanitize in between visitors.



REDUCED HOURS


Typical mall hours are 10am to 9pm Monday-Saturday, with reduced hours on Sunday’s.


Now, malls will open for a limited amount of time for customers to shop. Most are sticking with Sunday hours, which means they will open late morning and close late afternoon or early evening.


This gives the mall staff more time for cleaning and less time for exposure to potential virus carriers.



THE STRUGGLE


Malls and retailers have been struggling in recent years and the pandemic only added to the problem. The Voorhees Town Center, in Voorhees, New Jersey, that has a high vacancy rate is re-opening on June 29, even though it has one operating department store, one eatery in the food court and only a handful of stores that operated under limited hours pre-pandemic.


Neiman Marcus and JCPenney filed for bankruptcy and are closing stores around the country. The Children’s Place is closing around 300 stores as well as GNC (General Nutrition Centers), both being mall staples for many years.



With sales and revenue falling and debts rising, retailers are struggling to stay relevant with shoppers. Have customers adjusted to buying online more since the pandemic began? I think so and it will most likely continue.


Stores have seen a huge increase in online sales since March. Target increased by 141% since last year. Walmart rose to 74% in the first quarter of 2020, sitting just behind Amazon who sits at #1.



THE FUTURE OF MALLS


While other news articles will give you the doom and gloom on the future of retail, not all malls and retailers will die off.


Yes, there will be some who will continue to struggle and go out of business, but a high number of malls are still thriving and will continue to do so even through a pandemic and changes in shopping habits.


The shopping mall is changing and transforming each day. It has become more of an entertainment experience than a shopping experience.



For example, look at the Fashion District, formerly The Gallery at Market East, in Philadelphia. While it continues to operate as a mall, there are restaurant and entertainment options that keep you in the mall for hours and continue to keep coming back.


Malls may never go back to the “norm,” and will continue changing, but we should appreciate them and relish in the nostalgia trip while they are still on this Earth.



For more on this article, contact Peter Planamente on Twitter @plana_journ

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