You don’t have to dig far into the news before you’re hit with another announcement of a retail store closing its doors and filing for bankruptcy due to the global pandemic. For many retail businesses who were already in debt before the hit of COVID-19, this blow has proven to be one from which many businesses will not recover.
It’s reported that as many as 25,000 stores could shutter their doors in 2020 due to COVID-19 impact. This is 10,000 more than the previously estimated 15,000 stores that would close this year following a record number of closings in 2019 and the liquidation of chains like Payless ShoeSource, Gymboree and Dressbarn. And it appears this is only the beginning. The list of retailers filing for bankruptcy since just May now includes RTW Retailwinds, Lucky Brand, J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers, Sur La Table, Neiman Marcus, Tuesday Morning, GNC Holdings and J. Crew.
In filing for bankruptcy, some retailers like Pier 1 Imports will close all of their stores permanently, while others like Victoria’s Secret and J.C. Penney, will only close 250 and 154 store respectively, but plan to keep the rest open at this time. Even the biggest brands like Starbucks are facing closures even though just moths prior drive-thru lines wrapped around the coffee shop most mornings. They are set to close 400 company-owned locations over the next 18 months. As People stated, it’s essentially every household name brand who is filing for bankruptcy or closing stores amid the pandemic.
A Crisis for Shopping Malls
Interestingly, it’s estimated that approximately 55%-60% of all store closures will be mall-based. This will result in heavily vacant malls that can’t attract the shoppers it once did, possibly forcing more store closures or the closure of the entire mall. As this sweeps across the nation, we will face large, unused commercial retail space with no fast or easy way for owners and investors of CRE properties to recoup their loss.
The challenges surrounding department store closures are unique and especially problematic for malls not just because of the foot traffic they’re supposed to deliver. Many malls also have clauses in their leases that allow other, smaller tenants to leave if anchor tenants drop out. So once retailers like J.C. Penney close this could open the flood gate for massive departures from smaller stores, without any real course of action from the malls.
This begs the question, can shopping malls survive the coronavirus pandemic with the reality of massive, permanent store closings?
Before COVID-19, shopping malls were just beginning to again hit their stride for those who smartly adapted to the shift to online retail. Many had gone to great lengths to incorporate more dining, entertainment, and fitness and personal services into their offerings to attract people to do more than just shop. Now that the pandemic has hit, all of these in-person past times have been severely impacted and forced to reduce occupancies or close entirely. As USA Today shared, “The whole business model of a mall, which is about pulling in as many people as you can and getting them to stay for as long as you can, has just unraveled.”
Analysts at Coresight Research predict a bleak future for shopping malls. They project that about 25% of America’s malls will disappear within the next three to five years. But add that this could rise to as many as 50% if we can’t stop the bleeding. If this happens, the face of America and the way people spend their time and make retail purchases will drastically change even more than they already have.
A Silver Lining – For a Lucky Few
What’s interesting to note is that some retailers have flourished during the pandemic. For these retail stores, nearly all of them – such as Walmart, Target, Kroger and Home Depot – offered essential services of some kind, including groceries and home improvement goods. Few are typically located in malls. And as we know for a while there, if you were a retailer who provided paper goods or sanitizer and cleaning supplies, your business instantly boomed beginning in March.
Additionally, these “big box” businesses are well poised to also benefit from online shopping, already having the infrastructure in place and the warehousing to store and ship items efficiently. For many smaller retailers and especially boutique businesses, it simply isn’t possible to adjust this quickly or finance it.
For retailers who remain hopeful that there will again be a day when people can get back to shopping like they did pre-COVID-19, it’s usually with the belief there will be a vaccine in the next 12-18 months. Unfortunately the reality is many businesses will not survive that long. And for the strong who do survive, they will surely feel the hit in the short-term.
How do you think such widespread retail closures will impact the way we shop and spend our free time? Better yet, what stands to replace the “experiential” model of shopping malls? Share your thoughts by commenting below.