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As a resident of the area, I decided to stop by Pheasant Lane Mall, a Simon-run property in Nashua, New Hampshire on three different occasions during the past week to observe retail occupancy, and to see if shopper enthusiasm would build after eight weeks of stay-at-home orders. Stores were in no rush to be the first to pull the trigger, and shoppers were in no rush to experience the new normal; at least that’s the way Week 1 looked at New Hampshire malls following the lifting of restrictions at stores.
My first visit occurred on Monday afternoon, when I found that mall hours had been shortened from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM six days a week and Sunday from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Complimentary face masks were available at mall entrances, and there was no shortage of “Stay 6 Feet Apart” signs throughout the mall. Pheasant Lane is part of a second wave of Simon properties that have begun to open their doors, which also included the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester and the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem.
Foot traffic was severely hampered at Pheasant Lane Mall with three department stores closed, Sears permanently and Macy’s and JCPenney temporarily. Target was open, of course, one of the selected stores to have been considered essential throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, this anchor unit elected not to open interior entrances to the mall on either level, constraining Target shoppers from directly accessing the common area of the mall and vice versa. It could have been staffing levels or pilferage concerns that kept the doors closed.
Dick’s, the only other anchor to be opened, only had its upper level entrance accessible to mall shoppers while the lower level entrance remained closed. Consequently, those mall shops that decided to open on Day One had to draw traffic virtually on their own, a recipe for a potential sales setback. At the same time only about 25-30% of the mall shops were open, and those were weighted toward independent operators and kiosks.
Monday’s food court openings included only two, Chick-fil-a and Charley’s Philly Steaks. That left nine closed food court occupants. National tenants were literally few and far between. Forever 21 (under Simon ownership now) was not-unexpectedly open, as were Pandora, Journeys, and Finish Line. Other brand name tenants opening Monday included Shoe Dept., Olympia Sports, Lindt Chocolate, Verizon, AT&T, Newbury Comics, Stonewall Kitchen, Cohen’s Optical and Zumiez.
My second visit was on Wednesday afternoon; it was almost a carbon copy of my first trip, with the exception of one additional open food court tenant, Cibao Chicken. There was evidence, however, that other retailers were getting close to opening with some employees apparently prepping their stores.
My Friday visit, however, did show improvement albeit limited. There was a noticeable uptick in foot traffic, with some shoppers apparently biding their time until the weekend. Taco Bell had opened in the food court. A few more stores had opened as well - American Eagle, sporting a 60% OFF sale, was one. Abercrombie & Fitch and Francesca’s had also opened and both were pushing their own 50% OFF sales. Aerie was another retailer that waited for the weekend “rush”. But that was it. For the most part, all three visits were uninspiring and left me with considerable doubt regarding a quick economic turnaround.
Week Two at Pheasant Lane Mall promises to draw better traffic following the Macy’s opening on May 18th. Manchester and Salem stores have opened as well. Perhaps the silver lining here is that a slow rollout will mean a safer rollout. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but the days and weeks ahead will get us, one hopes, closer to where we need to be.
Vice President of Research