Justin Cormier will level with you: Selling popcorn is a tough racket to be in.
Fun, but tough.
So under those circumstances, you can see why he pulled back on reopening his business, Pop-A-Licious Gourmet Popcorn, in the Acadiana Mall when mall officials opened it back up on Monday following the weeks-long shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday morning, his business reopened in time for the start of the Memorial Day weekend without his six part-time employees. He’s one of about 30 merchants to reopen in the mall in the past week, and they’re hoping foot traffic and sales can return to near what it was before the shutdown.
“I wanted to see how traffic was,” said Cormier, who visited the mall during the week to gauge the public’s reaction to the mall reopening. “It was not quite what it was, but it’s definitely there. I guess the first few days people were wanting to come out. It’s going to be interesting to see how things go this weekend knowing it’s a holiday weekend and this is normally a time it’s booming.”
Customers were starting to file into the mall on Friday morning, despite some stores remaining closed. Fashion retailer H&M, the latest addition to the mall that arrived with a splash last fall, is still closed. The decision to reopen stores are a market-by-market decision, a company official said.
Other stores are open, including Forever 21 and Buckle, along with anchor stores Dillard’s and Macy’s.
“Traffic has been great since we re-opened on Monday and we are hoping for an even better weekend,” said mall manager Nikki Nugier, who said Friday that more stores were expected to open over the holiday weekend.
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Many malls across the nation have reopened as states have reopened their economies. Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest owner of shopping malls, had 77 of its 209 propertied opened last week and expects to have half of them open this week, reports indicate.
Mall officials had to scramble a bit after Gov. John Bel Edwards amended his order to allow malls to open in Phase 1 of the recovery. Mall retailers with interior entrances can reopen under the same 25% capacity guideline other retailers must follow.
The capacity requirement is calculated by either one person per 60 square feet of gross area or 25% of the posted capacity by the State Fire Marshal, which is issuing the guidance in conjunction with Edwards’ administration.
The mall is not expected to reach the 25% mark over the holiday, Nugier said. Employees and security officials, however, will remind and encourages guests to maintain social distancing guidelines, and officers will be on duty to monitor traffic, she said.
Hours have been reduced to 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily except for Sunday, which are 11 a.m-5 p.m., to allow for crews to sanitize the mall. Dining in the food court remains closed.
Employees must wear masks while dealing with the public, according to the mandate issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Employees at the Acadiana Mall were wearing masks Friday morning.
“We have struggled to wear the masks,” said Lucretia Huval, owner of Watch Me Group Up Boutique. “We’re wearing them, but it’s a struggle. It’s hard to speak to the customers. Our employees interact with customers, and that’s probably been the hardest struggle for us. I’m telling you, it’s hard to do. Other than that, we’re working through it.”
How many people return is the biggest question for the mall, which remains an economic driver in Acadiana while other malls have struggled or closed. In a report by Barron’s from data collected by Placer.ai, a foot-traffic analytics firm, showed traffic May 1-11 was down on average 75% compared to a year ago at eight malls surveyed in mid-sized markets in seven states.
Foot traffic is not directly related to overall sales — some, like Watch Me Grow Up Boutique — still offer curbside service for anyone not wanting to enter the mall. But getting more stores open could help bring with traffic, Huval said.
“We’ve done well and are satisfied and happy,” said Huval, whose store reopened Monday. “But we could have done more if more stores were open. That’s the only thing. We’re waiting to see when the other stores will open. We hope they’ll be open soon.”
Back at Pop-A-Licious, Cormier might just be glad to be back in the mall. He and his staff tried to make it work during the shutdown, making deliveries from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Saturday, and had success but did not have the manpower to deliver it to customers around Lafayette.
But in his small space outside of the Dillard’s wing of the mall, he’s looking at the future of the mall as everyone emerges from the COVID-19 shutdown. The virus has accelerated many retail closings nationwide, including Pier 1 and Victoria's Secret, which announced this week its plans to close 250 stores in North America.
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The Victoria's Secret store inside the Acadiana Mall was closed Friday. Company officials have not released a list of stores that will close.
“It’ll be interesting to see moving forward how the mall traffic is going to go,” he said. “I think this is a time we all need to come together – mall ownership, mall management and all stores – to do stuff to promote people to get back (to the mall) and to know it is a safe place to come right now.”