I entered Blue City, the shopping centre in Warsaw. It was 9.57 a.m. Blue City is a second league shopping centre. It is popular within the district, but hardly anyone comes here from another part of the city. There was a warning on the door: entry only in face masks.
Next to the entrance a woman sells masks and disinfectants.
Next to it, a TV crew is talking to a slightly frightened young woman.
“What are you doing here?” they ask.
"I came here to work," the girl replies.
Hearing these words the reporter is slightly disappointed. He was looking for customers to interview. A dozen or so people are hanging around the centre.
The seller from the watch store looks at all this resigned. "Having your store open until 10 pm makes no sense now," he says.
Some tenants throughout the country are asking for shortening of the opening hours. They have a problem with employees. Shopping centres usually agree to these requests. They know that there is no chance for any shopping spree over the next few days.
I watch the grilles in the Empik store rise, inviting customers inside. So this store will be open. It wasn't that certain.
On Thursday, the management of Empik issued a statement that "due to a pandemic, they decided to withdraw from more than 40 lease agreements in shopping malls. This means that these locations will not open on May 4."
Hygiene is the most important
I'm going across the street, to Reduta shopping centre. If Blue City is the second league in the shopping malls circle, Reduta is even worse. It is already slightly patinated.
There is a poster with a long number of recommendations hanging at the entrance. "Please follow the rules below: keep a safe distance of 2 metres, cover your mouth and nose, only 1 person per 15 sqm, remember to disinfect your hands frequently, you must wear gloves in stores. No consumption of food in the whole gallery, fitness club and gym closed, cinema closed, places for recreation and rest closed."
The rules are the same throughout the country.
There is information on the doors of each store with the maximum number of customers who can be inside at the same time. For Kruk jewellery salon, the number is 2.
Reduta is almost empty. A gallery employee stands at the escalator handrail and cleans it with a disinfectant.
I look at the Reserved store. It is situated on two floors. The entrance is covered by a grille. It’s closed. But the employee is just carefully sticking the card that the salon will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and it will be able welcome up to 130 customers.
On Thursday, the owner of Reserved, LPP, also issued a statement: "The company will withdraw from contracts for the use of commercial space constituting about 29.5% of the total number of square meters of commercial space used by the LPP SA Capital Group."
But it adds:
"At the same time, LPP is ready to start talks with shopping malls about new contracts containing conditions adequate to the new circumstances."
There is a discussion between stores and shopping centres about rents. At least a dozen companies have cancelled rental contracts for some of their shops. Among them are Lancerto, Kazar and Ochnik. The companies have terminated lease agreements for 20-30 percent their stores.
"Over the past weeks, we have spared no efforts to develop a framework agreement regulating the relations between landlords and tenants," says the Association of Polish Trade and Service Employers, which brings together retailers. "In the absence of such an agreement and in the face of the opening of shopping centres, we have come to the point where each tenant is forced to make individual business decisions. One of them is abandoning the contracts that are inadequate to the realities of today's market. We know that there are a lot of cancelled contracts, but it has very specific justification."
For the period of the lockdown they were exempted from paying rents. Now they must do it on the same terms as before the coronavirus pandemic. The retailer chains want to pay rent based on sales. Because it is known that turnover will be much lower.
Shopping centres: no fitting rooms, no cinemas and restaurants
The business idea of shopping centres is based on the largest possible customer traffic. Now it is impossible. Before the coronavirus in a medium-sized shopping centre there could have been over 6,000 people at the same time. Now it is just 3,000.
Going to the gallery was supposed to be a pleasure. Now it will be sad.
Masks, gloves, no fitting rooms, closed entertainment and catering spaces - this will not be the same trade - the representatives of the shopping centres say.
At least for now, shopping malls managed to kill the idea of ??installing thermal imaging cameras in galleries with temperature measurement and customer segregation into various risk groups (red, yellow and green).
Radosław Knap from the Polish Council of Shopping Centres at a special press conference organised on Monday argued that this would mean an expense of at least half a billion zlotys.
Galleries, especially now, cannot afford it. According to him, also because of the masks on the faces of customers such cameras could provide false results.
Knap, when asked about contracts terminated by chains, declines to answer. He claims that right now is a period for additional negotiations.
Preliminary PRCH reports show that from 60 to 90 percent of the tenants who could open their stores did so on Monday.
However, companies have their business plans and the shopping centres have theirs. According to the Deloitte consulting company report, "Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Polish shopping centre market," shows that malls in Poland have a combined debt of PLN 54-90 billion. "The financial costs associated with servicing the debt (interest repayment) are estimated at 1.9 to 3.2 billion zlotys annually," says Deloitte.
Centres' revenues are 10.1-16.8 billion zlotys a year. Tenants' sales - 125.9 billion zlotys a year.
Both sides are trying to frighten each other, for now. However, the largest reductions will be available for the anchors - the largest tenants in the centres with several stores there.
Regardless of the effects of negotiations, some of the outlets will be liquidate anyway. It has already begun.
I pass the Euro AGD RTV store in Reduta. It's already closed. There is the information: "Dear customers, RTV Euro AGD store will be shut down on April 17, 2020."
In a recent interview with 'Wyborcza', Tomasz Ciąpała, the owner of Lancerto, a Polish men's fashion store, said that all of the companies would start to review their stores and close the unprofitable or low-profit ones.
Shopping centres have a much bigger problem
Shopping in shopping centres is an entire ritual. It's going to the hairdresser, then for coffee, and by accident - buying shoes.
The mall is such a creation that one store is sending you to the other one, and one service outlet the next.
Now this relationship has been broken.
I go through the food court in the centre and feel like I'm on the set of the series "The Walking Dead" or "Into the Night". Both are post-apocalyptic movies.
Only McDonald takeaway is open in Blue City. On the counter, there is a bottle of liquid and a card saying: "Disinfect your hands after placing an order."
Normally people are crowded here. Today, there is only a bored deliveryman with a big bag, waiting for the food to take to a customer.
Costa Coffee is open, but sells as required by law - take-aways only. But what is the point of buying coffee for PLN 14-16 if you can't even drink it in the mall? Anyway, how to do it in a mask?
You can't sit anywhere with it, because all spaces, sofas, tables, rest areas in galleries are fenced off.
In the places where cinemas and fitness clubs used to be, there is only darkness now. This is particularly painful for the shopping centres.
Even before coronavirus, some customers came to the stores, treating them as places for window shopping. They were already shopping online.
Sensing this trend, the shopping centres changed the categories of their tenants. A decade ago, restaurants accounted for 5-7 percent of the tenants of shopping centres. Now the number is up to 10-15 percent, sometimes even as much as 20 percent.
People came to the centres to drink coffee, have lunch, cut their hair or watch a movie. Recreational facilities were more popular in shopping centres.
When will cinemas, restaurants and hairdressers open? Restaurants and beauty salons and hairdressing services are counting on green light in the second half of May. It's even hard to speculate about the date of the opening of cinemas.
The malls are waiting for the government's consent to open so-called commercial islands. Provided that checkout desks are separated from customers by plexiglass plates, staff have a mask and gloves, and one person is served at the island at the same time.
Under an optimistic scenario, tenants' sales will start to return to a normal level in the fall. Some, especially small businesses, simply won't last that long.
When will the shops open?
Przemysław Dwojak from research company GfK, in a special report prepared for PRCH, estimates that before the epidemic, about 15 million Poles did not buy online. They liked to visit stores, they did not want to change their habits.
On the other hand, 11 million people relatively prosperous and younger residents, especially from larger cities, shopped both online and in normal stores.
Now it will change.
“The time of social isolation is conducive to the growing number of online store users,” concludes Dwojak.
However, this is only a one-way road. If someone starts buying online, they don't want to do it in a traditional store anymore. It's simply cheaper and more convenient to do it online.
Electronics and books are increasingly being bought online. The model of the Zalando store is becoming more and more popular. The customer orders 20 items, tries them on and sends back 18 of them.
This trend can also be seen in the catering business. Sfinks Polska, which owns the Sphinx restaurants, has just launched two new brands - KEBAPI and YOLO Chicken. You can order them only online.
Will coronavirus result in closing of shopping centres?
What does all of this mean for the shopping centres? There was already an oversupply of retail space in Poland.
Shortly some of the shopping centres may become empty.
Abroad, if the shopping centre fails to attract customers it is simply closed down by its owner. Randall Park Mall, Ohio, opened as largest shopping centre in the world in 1976, has been demolished a few years ago. In its place now stands an Amazon distribution centre.
What seemed exotic until recently will probably be our future. Some centres will have to change their functions, or will be demolished.
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