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The shopping mall needs to be OK

I’ve not been shy about my love affair with the traditional interior mall as a retail institution...

I’ve not been shy about my love affair with the traditional interior mall as a retail institution. While skeptics have been predicting their inevitable death, the enclosed shopping mall seems to innovate and survive in spite of its critics.

But could the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic finally have done them in?

I was prompt to investigate three of Saskatoon’s indoor malls after the provincial government loosened restrictions and allowed them to reopen in May.

The first few days, traffic was undeniably sparse. It has certainly picked up since then, but not to pre-pandemic levels.

Many stores were not prepared to swing open the doors, and by my estimation only about 50 per cent of retailers were back in business upon the reopening date.

Those that were, and continue to be open, are stringent with their pandemic protocols.

Don’t follow the leader

Shoppers I have encountered are either respectfully mindful of distancing, or completely oblivious.

This is further complicated by the fact that each retailer seems to have taken a different perspective on their mandatory preventative measures.

Typically you are being asked to sanitize coming into a store. Some will offer it going out as well.

All stores have indicated pathways to eliminate as much one-on-one contact as possible, with designated entries and exits.

When in doubt, the best practice is to ask a store employee if they don’t approach you first upon entering.

It’s definitely a process to go shopping now, but it’s still worth it.

Why does it even matter?

I love the experience of mall shopping, especially in our climate.

There is a greater picture, though.

Our malls each employ hundreds of people in retail stores as well as staff to secure and maintain the facilities.

There are many restaurant franchise owners who have banked big time on the new food hall renovation at Midtown, and they need the shoppers to come back.

We can’t forget that with traffic, new business will follow.

Both the H&M and MEC storefronts indicate those new retailers are still coming, but no longer define as to when. I guess it’s a good sign that the decals are still even up?

According to Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan is at least faring better than other provinces. April sales were down 14.8 per cent for Saskatchewan and 18.4 per cent for Alberta compared to March 2020.

Ontario and Quebec have felt the impact far worse, recording month-over-month drops of 32.8 and 27.8 per cent, respectively.

On the other hand, online sales surged and retailers who had a presence cashed in with a 9.5 per cent gain in sales.

No word yet on whether May or June sales rebounded, though it appears people are out spending again.

All signs indicate this won’t be over quickly, but hopefully this is not our permanent “new normal.”

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