By Sharon Edelson and David Moin
with contributions from Booth Moore
 on March 17, 2020
Rodeo Drive Los Angeles California 2008-shopping Centre With Passing Lamborghini Random Commercial Property Portfolio, Na, United States, 2010

Mall operators and retail centers on Tuesday finally made the call to shut down many of their operations due to coronavirus concerns and pressures from retailers and government authorities.

Among the temporary closings, all New Jersey malls, the Hudson Yards mall in Manhattan, and two of California’s biggest retail centers, the South Coast Plaza mega mall in Costa Mesa and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday ordered all shopping malls in the state to close at 8 p.m. that evening until further notice. The Garden State is a mall mecca with 28 centers, including 20 with more than 1 million square feet.

At Simon, the nation’s largest shopping center developer, “In accordance with the latest Center for Disease Control guidelines regarding COVID-19, we have temporarily modified our operating hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. When mandated by governmental executive orders, we have closed a small number of centers in certain states,” said Ali Slocum, vice president of public relations and communications.

Simon Property Group’s King of Prussia mega mall in King of Prussia, Pa., closed over the weekend. A message on the mall’s web site reads: “On March 12, [Pennsylvania Gov.] Wolf recommended that all nonessential retail close in Montgomery County, Pa. We expect that all nonessential tenants of King of Prussia adhere to and comply with governor Wolf’s recommendation, effective immediately.”

The mall at Hudson Yards, called The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards, closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, though the Spanish Diner at Mercado Little Spain continues to operate as a “community kitchen” from noon to 5 p.m. daily, serving a limited takeout menu at reduced prices. The diner is also offering flexible pricing for those who can’t afford to pay. The Vessel, The Shed and Edge are also closed temporarily.

The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards, anchored by Neiman Marcus, has temporarily shut down, among other shopping centers. 

To help vulnerable retail tenants closing stores, some shopping centers are contemplating renegotiating rent agreements or offering rent forgiveness, but retail sources said they believed some malls delayed closings possibly to continue collecting rents from tenants for as long as possible.

“At this stage, it is too early to determine the situation’s impact on the contractual obligations of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield retailers and other partners or to estimate the effect of any case-by-case support measures that may be decided on,” the global mall developer and operator said in a statement, adding that it’s started active dialogues with tenants about how to “address these unprecedented challenges.” Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield is reducing nonstaff expenses and deferring nonessential capital expenditure.

URW said local authorities required nonessential stores to close in France, Spain, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the company’s shopping centers in those markets are “substantially” closed, while supermarkets, food stores and pharmacies, considered essential, are operating. Some limitations to trading hours also apply to the group’s properties in Denmark.

“Other shopping centers continue to trade as normal for now, albeit with reduced footfall, although URW expects other governments may adopt similar measures in due course,” the mall giant said.

Westfield’s three Bay Area properties — Oakridge, Valley Fair and San Francisco Centre — closed last night to all but stores considered essential.

Taubman Centers said Tuesday it’s begun reducing operating hours at its properties outside New Jersey, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Malls will open an hour later on Sunday, opening at noon and adhere to the normal 6 p.m. closing time. “We believe this change to one shift considers the staffing challenges of tenants, the personal challenges of employees, the need to responsibly practice physical distancing, and still allows us to serve the needs of the public,” the company said. “Naturally, the situation remains highly fluid and more changes may come.”

Taubman said tenants are making the decision to remain open or to close. Many have reduced hours or have closed on their own volition, or by mandate; many others remain open, the company said. “For tenants who wish to continue operating, or for restaurants and other essential businesses where governmental order encourage them to remain open, we must help them continue to serve customers by remaining open. Providing the necessary security and cleaning services is more important than ever before.”

Taubman has reset seating in common areas to ensure social distancing. Food courts and play areas are closed, and all events through March are canceled, including the annual Bunnyville Easter experience. The mall operator has since early March been disinfecting high-touch, high-traffic surfaces with a stronger, more effective disinfectant product where available and more hand sanitizer stations have been added.

In a letter Friday, Don and Mark Ghermezian, co-chief executive officers of American Dream, the 3.3 million-square-foot property in East Rutherford, N.J., said that while there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at the center, “in the best interests of our guests and employees, we’ve made the difficult, but responsible decision to close beginning Monday, to help mitigate the spread of the virus. We anticipate remaining closed through the end of March, but will continue to monitor the ongoing situation and follow the guidance of federal and state officials and public health agencies.” The grand opening in American Dream of the DreamWorks Water Park and scores of retailers was set for Thursday but was postponed.

The Beverly Hills City Council held an emergency meeting Monday night to decide on steps to deal with the coronavirus, and voted unanimously to close the city’s retail stores, including those on Rodeo Drive, with the exception of pickup and limited private appointments. They will remain closed until the city’s local emergency is canceled. Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch, who unveiled the creation of a COVID-19 Kindness Task Force of community volunteers to assist the elderly and vulnerable populations. “We encourage members of our community to call their friends and loved ones, develop networks and support neighbors. By offering assistance in a safe and responsible way, we demonstrate our resilience as a community and will prevail healthier and stronger.”

South Coast Plaza is closed for 14 days with plans to reopen on March 31. The property, along with Disneyland, which closed last week, is a major tourist driver to Orange County, with more than 250 luxury boutiques spread over 128 acres. The restaurants will remain open for delivery and catering. An employee in one of the center’s tested positive for COVID-19.

The news from malls followed soon after many retailers, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Abercrombie, Footlocker, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Kering, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Chanel all announced the temporary closing of their entire store fleets.

The International Council of Shopping Centers postponed its ReCon conference, which was scheduled for May 17 to 19 in Las Vegas, and all other ICSC events through June 30.

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