The Virus and the Mall: An Uncertain Combination

Retail is taking a hit around the globe as the coronavirus rages on – and what about malls?
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Posted March 18, 2020

We are truly living in unprecedented times. As I’m writing this, the number of cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and across the world, continues to rise. The panic that has overtaken the general public is palpable.

Here in Cincinnati, the toilet paper supply has been ravaged. Certain items at stores are completely wiped out, while others – canned food? – are seemingly left untouched. (Note: You can’t eat TP.) Retail around the world is dealing with many unknowns, feeling the pressures of temporary store closures to help “flatten the curve.”

No one can quite describe the feeling in the air. It’s like post-9/11 but with an added mega-dose of uncertainty and concern. Those who can are working from home and many are staying home voluntarily, practicing social distancing.

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know I have a weird “thing” for malls. I just love them – whether thriving or “dead.” The mall closest to my residence here in Cincinnati, the Kenwood Towne Centre, received an order from the Ohio Department of Health to close its doors earlier this week, as did the nearby Northgate Mall. But, it was rescinded hours later.

According to Cincinnati’s WCPO, the “mistaken” cease-and-desist orders were issued out of an “abundance of caution.” The Ohio Department of Health recently announced the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people in a single indoor space, which has since been reduced to 50 people. For now, the malls are allowed to stay open if they comply with social distancing (patrons must stand six feet apart) and close down food courts.

WCPO shared an additional statement from Kesterman: “Please realize that we are working around the clock to ensure the health and safety of the citizens of Hamilton County … We are sorry for any inconvenience or confusion that the previous order may have caused.”

Large malls like the King of Prussia mall in King of Prussia, Pa., have closed their doors due to coronavirus and many others malls across the country are slowly following suit. Many that are still open have cut or altered their hours. (Editor's note: Since publishing this blog, more news has come out about malls across the country temporarily closing, including all indoor malls in the state of New Jersey.)

Beyond the mall itself, the stores inside are also poised to suffer. A specific example are The Gap and Banana Republic, which were profiled in a MarketWatch article. “In our view, mall store closures are possible given a need for social distancing policies to slow U.S. infection rates … This would benefit the health and wellness of society, but be detrimental to mall store traffic and Gap’s revenues and margins. We are most cautious about Gap, as the brand did not do well in a great consumer environment, which is now getting worse,” said analysts from Cowen (New York), according to MarketWatch.

Other global retailers – Patagonia, Sephora, Ulta, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple, to name a few – are beginning to close their physical stores across the country.

In short, this is an uncertain time. Not just for retailers, but for virtually everyone on the planet. It’s important to remember, however, we’re all in this together. Retail has been through hell and back the past several years, but it’s always managed to find a way to survive. And this time, I hope, will be no different. Hang in there, everyone, and stay safe.

Carly Hagedon is the Managing Editor of VMSD magazine. She lives and works in Cincinnati and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati, where she studied Journalism – Magazine Writing and American history. She also currently serves as a board member for the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Prior to her foray into the retail industry, Carly worked as a freelancer for several local publications and interned at Cincinnati Magazine.