GUILDERLAND — Crossgates Mall has been ready to open its doors, but the governor’s office is still not ready to see that happen.
Pyramid Management Group devised a comprehensive plan in May for all of its shopping malls to follow once virus-related shutdowns were lifted. The plan called for safety and sanitation protocols that would allow shoppers to return while maintaining the effort to stop the virus’ spread.
The 14-page presentation was published in anticipation that local malls would be allowed to open in early June. Stores with streetside entrances have since been permitted to reopen, but the majority of mall stores remain closed. When indoor malls were left off the list of permitted businesses, the mall’s management group and local politicians pleaded to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reconsider.
“With 2,500 jobs estimated to be on hold alone at Crossgates Mall, the workers, businesses and local governments who depend on indoor malls to drive traffic and revenue, are on hold with no clear timetable as to when they can safely reopen,” Assemblymember Patricia Fahy said on June 11, when sending out a public plea to have malls open as part of the governor’s Phase 3 roll out. “Numerous big box stores have been open throughout the pandemic, while indoor malls have been prepared for weeks with detailed proper protocols to open responsibly, yet have received no guidance or direction.”
Big box stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, have had their doors open. Walmart and Target have remained open throughout the pandemic because grocery stores were deemed essential businesses since March. The perceived disparity between essential and non-essential businesses has caused frustration and ignited demonstrations throughout the state, including Albany.
Pyramid was preparing to open Crossgates Mall at the onset of Phase 2 of the governor’s plan in early June. The management group said it had devised a plan without state input, but had sought input from MARSH Risk Management. A review of the plan revealed that the group was ready to implement some practices already witnessed in public parks, such as social distancing prompts. Other points included “proactive touchless disinfecting” by means of CDC and EPA approved electrostatic sprayers, and an improved regiment of sanitizing common areas such as the restrooms, seating areas and food court.
Though the management group was confident that the spacious structures of its malls would allow for sufficient social distancing, it would have required all visitors to wear masks. All mall employees would have been subject to wellness checks. Curbside pickup spaces were also being prepared in mall parking lots. The group was ready to instruct its restaurants and entertainment venues to remain closed.
The group was to launch a three-pronged “Safety First” marketing campaign that would have included advertising and social media. This is not to suggest these plans won’t be used once the mall does reopen.
“Our collective investment of time and money into safely and responsibly re-opening our centers was considerable,” Pyramid said in a recent statement. “Re-opening is key to the survival of these retailers, many of which are locally owned and are now in grave danger of never being able to open their doors.”
Crossgates’ website has remained quiet since announcing the shutdown. However Walden Galleria, its sister mall in Buffalo, has been more on the offensive. As other locations were permitted to open under Phase 3, the mall’s website cried that its tenants were “penalized unfairly.”
“Nearly 30 food and beverage businesses at Walden Galleria, representing more than 500 employees at the center, are demanding fairness and quick action from New York state in allowing them to re-open immediately alongside all restaurants…” mall officials said in a statement. “Despite carefully following the phased approach outlined by the state on May 4th and investing significantly in new safety and social distancing protocols, in addition to meeting all local and national health and safety metrics, these businesses and their employees are in serious jeopardy at a critical juncture in our state’s recovery.”
Robert F. Mujica Jr., the state’s budget director, informed local leaders last week that the governor was not opening malls, movie theaters and gyms as part of Phase 4, according to a report published in the Times Union. The following day, the governor said in his daily update that he stands by his approach based on its success.
“Our approach has been vindicated and the phased reopening based on facts is working,” Cuomo said Wednesday, June 24. “I said from day one that the theory the virus should be handled politically can’t be done. The virus doesn’t respond to political theory – it responds to science and data. We’re going ahead with our metrics and our phased reopening, and five regions are set to enter Phase IV on Friday. The numbers continue trending in the right direction as we went from one of the highest infections rates to one of the lowest in the country, so we will also allow slightly larger social and religious gatherings, but people need to continue wearing masks, socially distancing and washing their hands frequently to stay safe.”
Crossgates Mall employs approximately 2,700 people with an annual payroll of $41 million. Its 225 stores generate $34.4 million in sales tax revenue, including $17.2 million for state, $10.3 million for county and $6.87 million for the town of Guilderland — including $7.25 million in property taxes.
Guilderland Town Supervisor Peter Barber said he was hopeful small businesses would be “allowed the same opportunity as far larger stores” to open soon.
“I am hopeful that small businesses will soon be allowed the same opportunity as far larger stores to resume serving our community,” said Barber. “They have shown a commitment to adhering to all health guidelines for protecting their customers and employees.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.