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Phase 4 begins, and owners of mall shops ask when they will be able to reopen

Empty parking lots at the Roosevelt Field mall

Empty parking lots at the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City on April 1. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

The state isn’t playing fair when it comes to what types of businesses can reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some owners of Long Island stores say.

Many assumed that malls on the Island would reopen Wednesday as Long Island hit Phase 4 of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “NY Forward” plan for the resumption of business operations since the state mandated shutdowns in March to help stop the spread of the virus. 

They were wrong, as Cuomo’s office revealed last month that malls, movie theaters and gyms would not be reopening in Phase 4.

“It’s nonsense, literal nonsense. It’s a joke,” Salomon Matatov, 48, said recently.  He owns Gabriel Alexander Jewelers in Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City and two other jewelry stores in Queens malls that are closed.

Since June 10, when Long Island entered Phase 2, stores with their own entrances and exits to the outside have been allowed to reopen.  At malls, this means mostly large department stores, such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney, and a few restaurants, while stores in interior corridors remain shuttered.

Malls may be divided into subgroups, with the differences between their reopening varying by a couple of weeks or months, sources have told Newsday.

“If you’re going to do it, do it equally for everybody,” Matatov said.

Last week, Cuomo said that, in order to reopen, malls would be required to have high-efficiency ventilation systems that filter out the virus, but the state has not yet provided guidance on the ventilation as it reviews the research on the subject, state officials said Tuesday.

New York is taking the right steps in being deliberate and careful in how it allows retailers to reopen, especially for a state that has shown great decreases in its COVID-19 cases after once being a hotspot for the virus, said Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State, which represents 2,000 stores statewide.

“I think when you see the evidence from other states where you’re seeing these massive increases [in COVID-19 cases], it suggests that we’ve been doing things correctly so far in New York,” he said.

Off-price retailer Century 21’s 13 department stores include a freestanding location in Westbury and a store in Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, the latter of which remains closed. 

Still, Century 21 is confident that it could operate the Green Acres Mall store using the same health and safety protocols that it has instituted at its other locations, which included reduced store hours, reducing the number of open fitting rooms to five per store to allow for social distancing, and daily temperature checks and health questionnaires for employees, said Larry Mentzer, chief revenue officer.

“Our Westbury store is not in a mall but much bigger than Green Acres.  But if we can provide a safe environment in Westbury, we can certainly provide a safe environment in Green Acres as well,” Mentzer said.

Thousands of store closings nationwide that were meant to be temporary will become permanent as retailers go months without revenue from brick-and-mortar locations, retail experts said.

There will be a record 20,000 to 25,000 store closures in the United States in 2020, topping last year’s record of about 9,820 closings, according to estimates from Coresight Research, a Manhattan-based retail analysis provider.

At least 55% of the closings this year will be at malls, which were already struggling before the pandemic because they were too dependent on department and apparel stores -- two retail categories that are losing customers to online competitors, Coresight said.

Malls account for 7.8% of retail square footage on Long Island, according to the CoStar Group, a Washington, D.C.-based provider of commercial real estate information.

Both Nassau and Suffolk counties said they could not break down how much in sales tax revenue their shopping malls generate.

Bu the country’s largest mall operator, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc., which owns Roosevelt Field, Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove and Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, pays about $60 million a year in property taxes for its Long Island properties, David Simon, chief executive officer, said during an earnings call in May, adding that the company’s properties should be reopened.

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