As the COVID-19 related shutdowns began to wind down in Texas and Georgia, Poag Shopping Centers’ lifestyle centers were among the first to welcome back guests.
As we watched them shop our retailers, enjoy freshly prepared meals, and stroll our grounds, we saw expressions of relief and hope, happiness and joy. It was clear that what was true before the pandemic will be true after: Brick-and-mortar is the most important channel for retailers.
There were lines at some retailers and extended waits at the restaurants. We set up additional tables in our public green spaces so that those not wanting to wait or eat inside could order takeout and eat on the property. Our level of cleaning has gone up dramatically. These are actions many more operators will be taking as more states open though, to be sure, different regions of the country will have different regulations.
Everywhere, grocery stores and mass merchants saw strong footfall and sales during the period of quarantine, underscoring the consumers’ desire to get out and shop. According to ICSC Research, 70% of consumers will make the purchases they were unable or unwilling to make during the pandemic. More than 60% of consumers say they have no plans to cut back on spending or will do so only for a brief period.
We are seeing that lifestyle centers, the retail center sector pioneered by Poag Shopping Centers’ predecessors more than 30 years ago, have proven to be uniquely positioned to support restaurants and essential retailers. Lifestyle centers are easy to navigate, feature the convenience of drive-up parking at each tenant’s front door, and provide shoppers with the ability to control their experience and maintain social distancing. These characteristics will help support the new retail delivery paradigm, which will be a mix of traditional stop and shop, BOPIS, curbside pick-up and more.
Factor in other benefits--fresh, clean air, no main entrance doors to touch and open, no elevators or escalators to ride, and no cramped food courts – and lifestyle centers already possessed with many of the contagion-proof atmospheres that will be demanded by both shoppers and tenants in the years to come.
We, too, of course, are proceeding slowly into the post-COVID-19 marketplace. At La Centerra at Cinco Ranch in Katy, Texas, we’ve put large, traffic-generating events on hold temporarily. In their place, our marketing staff is creating smaller events that take advantage of unique spaces in our properties. In the coming days, events such as drive-in movies and small outdoor group fitness activities with social distancing will start sprouting up at several of our centers. Looking further into the year, our teams are reimagining what the holiday season could look like with Santa experiences that capture the memories and essence of the season while preserving distancing protocols. “Drive-Thru Santa Photos” are a distinct possibility.
Flexibility and creativity will be key to succeeding amid the challenges we’ll be facing. At the Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor, Conn., we are collaborating with local government to re-route vehicular traffic on property to allow restaurants to set up tables on the sidewalk and even in the street. At the Avenue at West Cobb in Marietta, Ga., the center has taken over several parking spots to create a drive-through lane for Panera Bread.
At Poag, we remain optimistic about the future of retail. Our industry will adapt, respond, and regain the strength that it once had. A huge number of consumers are ready, our tenants are ready, and we are ready.
Josh Poag is president and CEO of Poag Shopping Centers.