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As Struggling Malls Chart Their Path to Recovery, Coronavirus Could Be the Latest Hurdle

As huge corporations like Nike take precautionary measures by temporarily shutting down several offices and outposts and flights are being cancelled worldwide, Coronavirus is set to hit already-struggling U.S. malls.

While recent research has abated fears of a retail apocalypse by disproving the notion all malls are dead, those same studies have found that malls that are surviving and even thriving are doing so by modernizing their existing spaces.

“Lifestyle centers” like that of Burlington Mall in Burlington, Mass. that include features such as a Japanese BBQ restaurant — and even an acupuncture clinic — create destination food courts as opposed to offering run of the mill Subway or Taco Bell options. Meanwhile, American Dream mega mall’s theme park and indoor ski slope in Rutherford, N.J., has supplemented some shopping with entertainment complexes. The buzzed-about establishment is also set to lure in millennials with direct-to-consumer brands.

For brick and mortar players, these experiential offerings have all been leveraged in the evolution of malls for 2020. However, all of these improvements — as well as their defining quality as a “public space” — place malls high up on the list of places people have reportedly started to avoid amid rampant coronavirus fears.

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According to Coresight, 27.5% of U.S. survey respondents reported that they’re currently steering clear of public areas to some extent, and nearly 60% of them intend to if the outbreak worsens here.

Of those that said they’ve already begun adjusting their normal routine, 40% specified that they are actively avoiding or taking fewer trips to shopping centers and malls while 30% are attempting to avoid all stores.

Grocery stores are likely to endure less of a hit, the research suggested, but retail and entertainment could shoulder a significant hit as 74.6% of those who will alter their habits note malls will be the most avoided destination with the only public transit and international travel being considered greater risks, Coresight reported.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with symptoms of the COVID-19 virus — including fever, coughing and shortness of breath — avoid going to work and self-isolate.

Meanwhile, with many retail workers among the millions of Americans without paid sick leave, malls could further challenged as ill retail associates feel compelled to continue to work.

For its part, the CDC has recommended that U.S. employers maintain “flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member.”

“Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual,” the organization added.

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