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story.lead_photo.caption Park Plaza mall in Little Rock has shortened its hours as stores close temporarily or adopt shorter schedules because of the coronavirus outbreak.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Noel Oman) - Photo by Noel Oman

The owner of a Central Arkansas shopping mall has temporarily closed the facility because of the coronavirus epidemic, but the state's other malls remain open, with adjusted hours, even though many of the businesses in them are closed.

Simon Property Group announced on March 18 that it would close all of its retail properties in the United States, including McCain Mall in North Little Rock. The closing period is scheduled to end Sunday.

McCain Mall is one of 209 retail properties in Simon's portfolio encompassing 37 states and Puerto Rico.

"The health and safety of our shoppers, retailers and employees is of paramount importance, and we are taking this step to help reduce the spread of covid-19 in our communities," said David Simon, the company chairman, chief executive officer and president.

One of its primary anchor tenants, Dillard's Inc., the national department store chain based in Little Rock, is one of the few major retailers choosing to remain open during the epidemic, where local conditions allow.

Dillard's has followed the example of shopping malls in the state that have chosen to remain open but cut back their hours of operation.

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Park Plaza mall in Little Rock is keeping its regular hours, but is no longer unlocking its doors early for walkers. A brief tour of the property on Tuesday found only a handful of tenants open, including Dillard's and a barber shop.

"We are home to a number of national, regional, and locally owned businesses and must consider the impact of every decision we make," Park Plaza said in a statement posted on its website. "Certain stores and restaurants are following their own corporate or owner guidelines for temporary closures and modified operating hours."

The mall is now closed to walkers, and the food-court seating area is closed. The Easter photo program and other mall events have been canceled. The frequency of cleaning and sanitizing has been increased "with an enhanced focus on all touch points."

Namdar Realty Group, which owns the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville, also has taken steps to address the epidemic, including closing the food court and a place for children to play.

"We are committed to ensuring the health and safety of all, our teams have been monitoring the situation closely and taking precaution measures at all our properties," the company said in a statement. "We are monitoring the situation carefully and are following the guidance of the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]."

The steps included increased efforts to clean and disinfect high-traffic areas.

The Mall at Turtle Creek in Jonesboro said its restaurants and food-court tenants are complying with the Arkansas Department of Health mandate to cease on-premise consumption of food and beverages.

Also "out of an abundance of caution," the mall's Easter Bunny "experience" has been postponed indefinitely.

In Pine Bluff, Judy Vu, owner of The Pines, said the mall is currently closed with the exception of one restaurant, Shanghai Express, that is doing take-out orders only.

"I'm in my office, but we're not open to customers," Vu said.

Attempts to call Shanghai Express were unsuccessful. Calls to the phone number listed on The Pines website for the restaurant went to a recording saying the phone number is not in service.

A call to the Pine Bluff mall's Dillard's Clearance Center was answered by an employee who said the store is currently operating its normal hours.

An employee at Hibbett Sports said the retailer is currently operating its normal hours.

Larry Kirkland, owner of Larry Kirkland Formalwear, said he recently left the Pine Bluff mall and went to an online service, but he said the current crisis is taking its toll on businesses everywhere.

"It's tough for small businesses to rebound from something like this," Kirkland said. "As far as that goes, it will be tough for larger businesses, too. This has the economy hurting all over the world, and it's not over yet."

The Hot Springs Mall announced shorter hours in response to the coronavirus epidemic, not opening until 11 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m. daily except Sunday, when the mall hours are noon to 6 p.m. "until further notice."

Central Mall in Fort Smith remains open for business, although many of the stores inside are temporarily closed. In addition, the electronic sign at the front of the mall facing Rogers Avenue details adjusted hours, which include 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

The malls and their tenants employ hundreds of people and generate millions of dollars in state and local sales taxes. And in some cases, the properties are tied to loans, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, which is asking for federal assistance.

"Without ensuring the stability of our tenant base, the repayment of up to $1 trillion of secured and unsecured debt underlying the shopping center industry will be at risk," Tom McGee, council president and chief executive officer, said in a recent letter to President Donald Trump. "This will jeopardize the entire industry and cause long-term damage to financial markets, rampant unemployment and irreparable harm to communities across our country."

Information for this article was contributed by Dale Ellis and Thomas Saccente of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 03/25/2020

Print Headline: Malls in state adjust to virus

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