U.S. Malls: A bygone culture shuttered by COVID-19

JCPenney is just one store that has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Photo by Chantilette Franklin/The Et Cetera

JCPenney is just one store that has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Photo by Chantilette Franklin/The Et Cetera



Mall closures have ramped up during the pandemic as customers have switched to online shopping or big-box stores like Walmart.

Malls have gradually closed many of their retail stores in the past few years, and with the pandemic, those numbers have increased. An August 2020 report from Coresight Research estimates 25% of the approximately 1,000 malls in the U.S. are expected to close over the next three to five years.

Aura Hoque, 20, a Dallas College marketing major, said she believes malls will gradually regain popularity, but not as much as the past.

“It’s kind of sad, to be honest,” Hoque said. “It’s not good because I don’t think people can rely on online shopping for everything.”

As retail stores located in malls struggle, many are finding it difficult to pay rent. According to Coresight Research, Simon Property Group, the largest shopping mall owner in the U.S., received only 51% of the rent they were owed for April and May 2020.

Other stores have had a hard time keeping their shelves stocked.

Champs Sports, a brand-name athletic footwear store at the Music City Mall in Lewisville, faced product shortages during the pandemic, according to employee Jalen Woods.

“COVID really messed up … how much shipment we were receiving,” Woods said. “We used to get a lot more [shipments], but when COVID hit, there [were fewer] people working in the warehouse.”

Now that the vaccine is readily available and summer is getting underway, Wood said he thinks customers will feel more comfortable going out.

He has also been told more products will be available for the summer.

“Corporate let us know [by] late June or early July that all of our shipments will be back to normal,” Woods said. “So, there is going to be a lot more product in the store and I feel like that will make the traffic go up.”

Some lower end malls tend to rely on stores like Macy’s or JCPenney to keep their tenants afloat, but more and more of these anchor stores are closing or going bankrupt.

Earlier this year, Macy’s announced two locations were closing in Dallas-Fort Worth as a part of the department retailer’s plan to shut down 125 stores nationwide by 2023, according to Macy’s Inc.

Not all stores in malls are struggling, however.

Celltech, a cellphone repair and accessory kiosk located on level one of Town East Mall, has been getting an average amount of customers, according to shopkeeper Prashant Kumar.

Kumar said he believes customers still want to come to a physical store so they can use their senses to pick out goods, which makes them more confident with their purchases.

“Even though there are many online retailers, there are still people who want to see, feel and try [products], making them want to buy it,” Kumar said.

Joni Daniel, the manager of Town East perfume shop Heaven Scent, was positive about her store’s future.

She said she is confident customers will return and their store will thrive as more people begin returning to pre-pandemic life.

“Malls will continue to decline because of online shopping,” Daniel said. “[But] people still like to come to the mall [for the] experience, to go together with family to shop, even if they have to pay a little bit more.”