Retailers face challenging holiday season

Law firm Hoge Fenton put together a virtual panel on Tri-Valley retail last week featuring the economic development officers from the five communities that was moderated by former Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (a member of the firm).

The officials shared the variety of ways they are striving to help businesses weather the COVID-19 shutdown and current restrictions.

Adam Van de Water from Livermore noted that foot traffic has recovered at the San Francisco Premium Outlets despite a major shift in their business model. The center has thrived with international tourists from Asia, many bused in from San Francisco. That market, with closed national borders, dried up so the outlets have been re-invented as a broad regional shopping center—think IKEA. It also helps that it’s not an enclosed mall so it has not faced some of the same restrictions that Stoneridge Shopping Center has.

Pleasanton’s Pamela Ott remarked on the challenges that will be faced by Stoneridge come the holiday shopping season. The mall currently is limited to 25% capacity and it’s anyone’s guess what limitations will be in place by Black Friday on Nov. 27.

And there’s also the human factor. Online shopping and parking lot pickup have soared during the shutdown and people have gotten used to the convenience as well as minimal contact. Black Friday is typically known for crowds seeking bargains and long lines outside and inside stores. How many people are going to be excited about shopping in that environment in COVID-19 times? Among the other questions is whether the traditional Santa Claus will be allowed.

Van de Water said that some retailers do as much as 75% of their business in the fourth quarter so there’s much at stake for the survival of some business (more than handful of national retailers have declared bankruptcy since the pandemic shutdown).

Thinking of the long-term future is an exercise in crystal ball gazing. Hazel Wetherford from Dublin observed that with national chain retailers re-organizing or going bankrupt, the type of spaces at centers like Hacienda Crossings are probably too large so owners will have to figure out how to sub-divide or remake those spaces. Restaurants face the challenge of 25% or 50% capacity limits that make it impossible to pay rent based on their actual square footage.

One bit of good news from the mall: GraceWay Church Pastor Mike Barris told the digital congregation Sunday of his visit to the temporary Dept. of Motor Vehicles office at the mall (the West Las Positas location is closed for renovations). Mike needed to get the Real ID license and was tipped by another staffer that there were minimal wait times. No appointments available at the mall location.

So he gave it a try—mask on and documents in hand–and was in-and-out in 22 minutes. Perhaps an all-time record for a non-appointment visit to the DMV.

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