Like with malls across the nation, Olympia’s Capital Mall shut down completely for two months when the COVID-19 pandemic was detected in Washington State last winter.
In the course of partially reopening stores at limited capacity, mall manager Kevin Johnston said the 112-store facility lost five tenants and gained two back.
“That’s not as bad as a lot of centers,” Johnston said. The mall’s anchors of JC Penney and Macy’s remain and the reopening of the movie theater, a significant generator of foot traffic, “was huge,” he said.
“The closures have affected foot traffic, right now we’re at about 75% of normal,” Johnston said.
Many mall stores that have survived the pandemic so far did so with the help of federal government loans to maintain reduced cash flow.
To fill some of the mall’s few vacancies, Johnston said he’s opened those spaces for public uses such as a library that would encourage visitors to spend time in the mall and take advantage of those shops open at 25% capacity. The pandemic precautions also have encouraged the stores to reconsider their mix of merchandise to offer more items that are not easy to buy online, such as certain lines of apparel that customers prefer to try on for fit before buying.
While malls elsewhere in the nation are contemplating new uses ranging from adding groceries to doctors’ offices, gyms and even residential, Johnston said no such considerations are in play in Olympia.
Johnston said Capital Mall’s physical location, surrounded by lots of commercials uses and residences, helps it attract visitors even during the pandemic. It’s typical, he said, for moms to visit with their children during the day “just to be in a place to hang out for a while.”
Reflecting upon lessons learned during the pandemic so far, Johnston said some stores might have remained closed longer than necessary. Retailers, he said, have demonstrated that they can operate safely.
“Maybe we were a little overcautious,” he said.