The Gardens Mall’s trio of challenges: Pandemic, store closings, online shopping – Palm Beach Post

The Gardens Mall’s trio of challenges: Pandemic, store closings, online shopping – Palm Beach Post

Four stores recently closed at the high-end shopping destination. Others have moved in, and the mall has taken many steps to offer safe shopping.

Jodie Wagner
| Palm Beach Post

PALM BEACH GARDENS — By Valentine’s Day, the Godiva chocolate store at The Gardens Mall will have sold its final truffle.

Citing a dwindling demand for in-person shopping amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Belgium-founded chocolatier announced last month that it planned to close all 128 of its North America locations by the end of March.

It joins three other major retailers that exited The Gardens Mall recently in an effort to control costs, including the video-game retailer GameStop, the women’s boutique chain Francesca’s and the fast-fashion retailer H&M.

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Francesca’s voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, with plans to sell the business, including its brick-and-mortar stores. About 140 of its 700 stores are expected to close.

GameStop plans to close 1,000 physical stores by the end of next month, even with the headline-grabbing rally that drove up its stock price, while H&M will close 250 of its 5,000 stores this year, including its two-story location at The Forbes Company-owned and operated Gardens Mall.

In announcing the move last fall, Stockholm-based H&M cited the pandemic and the growth of online shopping as a contributing factor.

“More and more customers started shopping online during the pandemic, and they are making it clear that they value a convenient and inspiring experience in which stores and online interact and strengthen each other,” Helena Helmersson, H&M’s chief executive, said in a prepared statement.

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The company said it regularly assesses and reviews customer behavior to determine which stores to keep open. While The Gardens Mall location didn’t make the cut, two others in Palm Beach County did. Locations at Rosemary Square in West Palm Beach and the Mall at Wellington Green in Wellington will remain open, the company said.

“While physical stores will always remain important to us and something we continue to invest in, having the right stores in the right locations is vital to ensure our long-term and sustainable growth,” the company said.

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Malls slip as online shopping soars

Like Godiva, many H&M locations are found in indoor shopping malls, which have been particularly hard-hit as more people shop online.

Malls struggled with empty stores before the pandemic, and that trend has accelerated in the past year.

The Gardens Mall, like many throughout the country, shut down completely last spring as the pandemic took hold, and initially put limits on capacity after reopening.

“The pandemic has certainly accelerated the decline of indoor mall shopping,” said Siri Terjesen, a professor and associate dean for research and external relations at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business.

“In many states across the country, governments arbitrarily closed down indoor malls for periods of time, while stand-alone big box retailers were allowed to open. These arbitrary government shutdowns, such as in California, devastated mall traffic patterns, and certainly accelerated the decline.”

The Gardens Mall, which opened in 1988 and is northern Palm Beach County’s high-end shopping destination, would not comment on store closings or whether it had seen a steady decline in mall traffic before or during the pandemic.

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But Orin Rosenfeld of Rosenfeld Realty Advisors in Boca Raton said it most certainly has experienced a slump, just like most other indoor malls throughout the country.

“Mall traffic is largely tied to the controlling of the virus,” he said. “Until people feel safe enough, they just are going to avoid these big, enclosed places. That’s why these open-air places have done a lot better. Those places offer a safe, quick in-and-out to get where they need to go, without going through the whole complex.”

Making malls safer for shopping

In an effort to draw shoppers who might be apprehensive about visiting an indoor mall amid the pandemic, The Gardens Mall has taken numerous steps to ensure safety.

In addition to limiting capacity to 25 percent after reopening in May — it’s now operating at full capacity — the mall has increased sanitizing and disinfecting procedures, installed sanitizing stations throughout the mall and in individual stores, cut back on its hours of operation, placed decals on the floor to encourage safe social distancing and required everyone who enters to wear masks.

Every mall staff member, from management to security and the maintenance crew, also must carry a sanitization pack, with disinfectant, gloves and wipes, to clean areas of contact throughout the center, spokesperson Shelli Lockhart said.

Many individual stores continue to operate at limited capacity, and there are greeters at every door to allow for contactless entry for guests if they choose. All entrances remain open.

“We introduced services and amenities to meet a variety of comfort levels,” Lockhart said.

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The most popular of those amenities include the mall’s Gardens-on-the-Go contactless package pickup, which is offered at 30 stores. The mall has joined numerous retailers throughout the country that offer this service, which has surged during the pandemic.

Once a trend, contactless pickup is something that people will always be looking to do, Rosenfeld said.

“Online ordering has really been something that has just taken off as a result of the pandemic,” Rosenfeld said. “People don’t want to wait. They don’t want to pay exorbitant amounts for shipping. Picking up with the online ordering is huge.”

New stores brave pandemic to open

For those shoppers who prefer to browse and buy in person, there are plenty of new places to visit at The Gardens Mall.

During the past seven months, the mall has added nine new stores and two pop-ups, the mall said.

New additions include the state’s first Amazon 4-store, lifestyle and clothing brand Salt Life and the popular burger chain Shake Shack.

“We continue to listen to our guests and bring to market those retailers that are most in demand,” said Whitney Pettis Jester, the mall’s director of marketing and merchant relations. “We look forward to continuing the evolution of The Gardens Mall, and to offer retail and restaurants that reflect the interests and desires of our community.”

Whether those new retailers and restaurants can lure shoppers to indoor malls amid the pandemic – and beyond – remains to be seen.

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Mall values have dropped 45 percent since 2016, Rosenfeld said, and the pandemic has accelerated that decline.

“Malls weren’t doing well before this all started,” he said. “I thought there might be half as many malls that will come back.”

Those that survive will need anchors like Macy’s or Target to attract customers, Terjesen said.

Malls also would benefit from having “shadow” anchors nearby, such as the Home Depot or Lowe’s home-improvement stores, and by providing more entertainment options such mini-golf, escape rooms, indoor playgrounds, and movie theaters to lure shoppers, Terjesen said.

“Prior to the pandemic, there was a full-on push for these experience malls, where they had mini-roller-coasters and theme parks,” she said. “Now those might win after everyone’s vaccinated, as people seek experiences and stay close to home. A mall that has something for everyone, such that’s it’s a one-stop shop, could really be quite useful.”

The Gardens Mall wouldn’t comment on its future plans, or how it expects to fill the space left by Godiva, H&M and others.

But executives remain hopeful following an encouraging holiday season highlighted by the return of Santa Claus.

“It certainly felt like the holidays,” Pettis Jester said. “We heard from many guests who said The Gardens Mall is part of their holiday traditions, and they felt safe coming back this year.”


Published at Mon, 08 Feb 2021 14:00:32 +0000

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