Although New York’s North Country region is in Phase 4 of re-opening from coronavirus shutdowns, indoor malls remain closed. Officials gathered in front of the Champlain Centre mall in Plattsburgh Monday to call on the Cuomo administration to issue guidance to reopen malls.
As small businesses across the street open and restore their customer base the main doors and interior stores at the Champlain Centre mall remain closed. Democratic Assemblyman D. Billy Jones of the 115th district organized the meeting in front of the local mall to send what he calls a simple message. “Let's level the playing field for these small businesses and these employees that depend on those businesses. We have big box stores with outside entrances and nothing against those big box stores. They employ a lot of people here in the North Country and provide a service. But how unfair is it that our small businesses and their employees cannot open back up right inside that building when other businesses around here can? It's unfair. We want to level the playing field. We're calling on the governor for guidance with this.”
Lake City Hobby owner Greg Nephew had expected to re-open in late May. He says that has been delayed only because his store is inside the mall. “Business models have changed over the years. Shopping malls are no longer only corporate stores. They are made up of small local businesses as well. These local businesses have come into the malls. The malls had empty stores. They made opportunities for local businesses. It was beneficial for both parties. Now the local businesses are being penalized because of that. We feel this is extremely unfair. We'd like to know what we need to do to get open. And at this point there are a lot of us that are in danger of not surviving.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo wants malls to install air filtration devices before opening and reiterated on Monday that large malls will be required to use such filters. “There are HEPA filters that can actually filter out the COVID virus. So any malls that will open in New York, large malls, we will make it mandatory that they have air filtration systems that can filter out the COVID virus.”
Within a few feet of the closed Champlain Centre doorway is the outer entrance to a big box store that has remained open throughout the COVID crisis. That store also has an interior entrance to the mall. Greg Nephew questions how the box store’s air filtering system is any different than the main mall’s. “The air filtration system in this mall operates the same as the air filtration system in any big box store. So we're not asking for special treatment. We're asking for equal treatment.”
DND Hair Salon has been located in the Champlain Centre Mall for 30 years. Even though salons are allowed to open DND can’t because it is inside a mall. Assistant Manager Bonnie Harnden stood outside with about a dozen employees. “It's been very frustrating. We think we're opening and then all of a sudden we're not. And we've gone through that three different times. We've been prepared each time. We've had a lot of customers that are really getting very frustrated. Some have had to go elsewhere so therefore we are losing business. Hopefully all of our loyal customers will come back to us but it's making an impact on something that we've worked very hard for all of our lives.”
Champlain Centre Mall in Plattsburgh has over 50 stores and is owned by Pyramid Corporation.