Just 10 days ago, the big headline on the front page of The Frederick News-Post was the pleasant news that Francis Scott Key Mall was going to be near full capacity after the announcement of several new tenants.
That was before the pandemic explosion blasted us out of our normal world, and into this strange, scary new one.
Now, all of the malls in Maryland have been ordered closed by Gov. Larry Hogan, and no one knows when they might reopen. Given what’s going on in the world, you’ll get no argument from us, but that doesn’t make it any less unfortunate.
FSK Mall had been swimming against the tide of change in the retail world for several years. In 2016, we reported that it had 10 vacant storefronts, a trend that was afflicting malls all over the country.
The old Frederick Towne Mall on U.S. 40 had long ago imploded, and its new owners are working hard to revive it as an entertainment destination. Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, long a regional shopping destination, is practically a ghost town.
In November, the Washington Post reported that malls were spending millions of dollars to reinvent themselves, noting:
“In the past decade, as shopping dollars migrated online and a parade of well-known retailers toppled, the malls that didn’t evolve fast enough stumbled into a devastating cycle of dwindling traffic, lower sales and disappearing storefronts. One in four U.S. malls is expected to close by 2022, according to a 2017 report by Credit Suisse.”
That’s why it was so heartening to see the good news from FSK. The mall announced that several new stores were already open for business and others had signed leases and planned to open soon. By late spring, the mall said it expected it would have only two vacancies.
Angela LaPadula, marketing coordinator for the mall, told our reporter that it was exciting to see so many stores getting ready to open. She pointed out proudly that several were small, independent businesses, owned by local people, while others were owned by national chains.
That bright announcement is now tinged with true sadness. So much has changed in just days.
Indefinite closures are often fatal for a small business, especially if they just opened and are trying to build a clientele. It can be equally crushing for established businesses, especially those laboring under large debt.
The federal government is trying to mount a stimulus package that will extend a lifeline to businesses large and small, but it is an idea more than a plan right now. In the meantime, business owners are looking at a dark future.
It takes so much courage, so much entrepreneurial spirit to open any business in the best of times, under the best of circumstances. It is an unfortunate accident of terrible timing to be opening just as the country is inundated by a pandemic.
When this horrifying, terrifying nightmare finally ends — and it will end — our hope is that these brave business owners will be able to go on, and that they will enjoy the success their courage deserves.
But it is very likely that the business world will be very different, and the business community will take a long time to recover.