UPDATE: May 7, 2020: Following the closure of its portfolio, mall operator Simon Property Group has opened 59 properties to date and plans to open another 18 in the next week, "with many more to follow," the company said.
Traffic at those malls already open has been "better than expected," Simon said. With occupancy limits in place, the company has had to limit customer traffic into the malls to maintain its social distancing protocols. "Moreover, to our surprise, many of our tenants experienced much stronger than expected sales over the weekend," the company said.
- Simon Property Group plans to begin the "phased reopening" of its mall properties soon, contingent on state and regional closure orders and criteria issued by the federal government, according to a message from Simon Malls President John Rulli to tenants obtained by Retail Dive.
- Simon plans to open five malls in Arkansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina on May 1, with more malls to follow in the first weeks of May, per the memo. Simon did not respond to Retail Dive's request for comment.
- As it opens malls, Simon is rolling out COVID-19 safety protocols, including limited hours, occupancy limits, spacing configurations to promote social distancing, employee screening for symptoms, employee training and face mask requirements for workers, among several other steps.
As the retail industry turns an eye toward the end of an unprecedented shutdown, Simon's message to its tenants is a reminder that even after re-opening, the COVID-19 virus will still haunt retail. Operations won't be returning to the pre-pandemic "normal" for the foreseeable future.
Simon was among the first major REITs to voluntarily shut down its mall properties, doing so the third week of March, after a steady stream of announcements from major retailers that they would temporarily shutter their national footprints and as states took progressively stricter steps to limit the disease's spread. Since then, most parts of the U.S. have implemented restrictions on what businesses may open and when residents may leave their homes.
The retailers that have stayed open, including Walmart and Target, provide a road map for others on how to open with the world still concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. Both major retailers have limited traffic, provided workers with protective gear, and changed their store operations to promote social distancing.
As it reopens properties, Simon is limiting foot traffic to 1 person per 50 square feet for properties as a whole. To enforce that, the mall operator will restrict how many entrances are open and create queues to enter.
It's also reshaping traffic flow, rearranging furniture in food courts to space people further apart, shutting some sinks and urinals for the same reason, and closing down high traffic areas like drinking fountains and valet stations.
Along with all of those steps, to allow time for disinfecting the mall operator said it will limit mall hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Rulli said in the memo that the protocols were developed "for the mitigation of known or suspected transmission pathways for COVID-19."
"As you can see, we have rigorously analyzed the shopping experience in our properties and have developed directions and safety measures and protocols to provide to our employees, shoppers and tenant employees to help prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus when we reopen and get back to business," Rulli said in the memo. For the protocols to work, he added, "we need the cooperation and participation of our tenants."
Cara Salpini contributed to this story.