Rochester-area mall owners will do 'whatever it takes' to reopen

Eastview Mall, as seen on June 1, 2020. Wilmorite Management Group operates Eastview Mall, Marketplace Mall, and the Mall at Greece Ridge, as well as Pittsford Plaza. (WHAM photo)

(WHAM) - The operator of the three mall properties in the Rochester area said it is "extremely disappointed" in the decision to keep malls closed and has plans in place to keep businesses going as the state emerges from the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Wilmorite Management Group operates Eastview Mall, Marketplace Mall, and The Mall at Greece Ridge, as well as Pittsford Plaza. Earlier this month, some stores with outside entrances were allowed to reopen for in-store retail shopping, but most of the stores remain closed.

Under the current state guidelines, only ten percent of the stores in the malls can operate, according to Janice Sherman, Corporate Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Wilmorite.

"There are multiple locally-owned stores and franchisees in the malls that cannot withstand this shutdown long-term," Sherman said in a statement released Wednesday.

Rumit Patel, the owner of Gloria Jean's Coffee in The Mall at Greece Ridge, says he's been ready to reopen for a while now, spending thousands of dollars on PPE, shields and other precautions to make his shop safe. He worries if his customers will return after all this time.

"My customers now, since they can’t come in, they have to go to a different place where money is not being spent locally. It’s probably going somewhere in Seattle. It’s going to be really hard to bring all that people back in my doors," said Patel.

Restaurants inside the mall are facing competition from outside restaurants that have outdoor and indoor dining. Jim's at the Mall is open for curbside pickup, but owner Elena Knapps says she could be close to filing for bankruptcy if they don't reopen soon.

"When you see all these other stores, all these other places open, people coming in and they’re packed, and you’re still leaving this...I just don’t understand it," said Knapps.

In the statement, Wilmorite suggested reopening parts of its properties in phases and keeping food courts and children's play areas closed, adding that they have planned for it and "are willing to do whatever it takes to get our mall tenants operating again."

Bob Duffy, president of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and special advisor to the Finger Lakes region during the reopening process, said Tuesday that malls are one of a handful of larger-scale public venues that will reopen under phase four, but at a later time.

“I know people are waiting for those,” said Duffy, “We get that. We get requests every day. But the governor’s team explained today the research and work they’re going through, which is extraordinary. And those areas will all open during phase four, just there's no date certain. There’s more work being done on those.”

Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, said the state is looking at how other states are handling the reopening of larger public venues such as theaters, malls, movie theaters, and gyms, and adjusting New York's guidelines accordingly.

"Do not ignore what’s happening outside NY," Azzopardi said in a tweet.

Wilmorite officials counter that they have done their research and are prepared for reopening. Lower summer occupancy rates, possible limits on the number of shoppers, CCTV security cameras and staffing changes are all potential tools that Wilmorite said it is prepared to use.