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Armed with sanitizers, masks, owners and retailers await state nod to open malls

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"We will have multiple-temperature checks—at all entry points and for every occupant in the car. Stores will also follow social distancing protocols," said a mall operator. (Photo: Reuters)

  • There will be masks and gloves for all on the floor. We will ensure shops ensure sanitization, said one mall operators
  • Retailers, mall owners will now begin to thrash out new rentals even as footfalls will take time to bounce back

NEW DELHI: Malls that are likely to open up starting 8 June, subject to state approvals, will proceed to do so with a detailed set of rules and guidelines. These would include multiple temperature screenings, social distancing in stores and common areas and minimizing crowds at high-touch points such as elevators and escalators. Developers say this will be the "new normal" for businesses as they resume operations.

Conversations on rental agreements will now quickly progress as retailers, who have seen business slump over the last two months, say they will only proceed to open stores once lower rents are agreed upon.

“I think from tomorrow onwards we should see dialogues starting with all retailers, we are not holding back on any openings because of it, we will figure it out," said Abhishek Bansal, executive director at Pacific Malls, that has three shopping centres in Delhi-NCR.

Bansal said the company will take a call depending on the nature of the tenant.

“Cinemas will still remain shut, plus with restaurants opening at only a limited capacity, we will see how every business opens up and how consumers behave," he said. Bansal expects footfall to be down by over 50% as the city’s key public transport, Delhi Metro, remains shut for some more time.

So far, the mall developer has not raised bills for April and May. “We will look at those, because, we too have costs to meet," he said.

"We could look at several arrangements, it has to be a mix of minimum guarantee (albeit lowered one) and revenue share. We could look at something for the first three months, and then change it depending on consumer response."

Virtuous Retail, that holds a portfolio of malls across south and north India, is readying its properties as and where state governments permit. Work on sanitization is going-on, said Pankaj Renjhen, chief operating officer of the mall developer. It will deploy a “social distancing" manager at every floor and prompt customers to maintain distance in common and high-touch areas.

“We will have multiple-temperature checks—at all entry points and for every occupant in the car. Stores will also follow social distancing protocols. All employees, working with the mall and with retailers, will have to log in their history (of travel and illness). There will be masks and gloves for all people on the floor. We will also ensure that shops ensure sanitization at all customer touch points," he said.

Malls and restaurants were among the first few businesses that were directed to shutter down as India moved to contain the spread of covid-19 in March.

Estimates by Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) suggest that over 650 organized malls and shopping centres were impacted by the nationwide lockdown, apart from several small shopping centres in smaller markets.

“Revival and resurgence is a long process, which has just about begun. We will await further information from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to ensure the guidelines are followed in letter and spirit," Amitabh Taneja, chairman, SCAI, said in a statement Saturday after the Ministry of Home Affairs announced ‘Unlock 1.0’ guidelines for the country.

States such as Tamil Nadu have decided against opening up of malls before 30 June.

In a detailed guide prepared by SCAI for response and preparedness of malls, several protocols for safety, hygiene, social distancing, and necessary isolation methods have been laid out.

“Necessary arrangements to be made to ventilate indoor environments with outdoor air as much as possible as per the guidelines framed by ISHRAE and approved by DG, CPWD of government of India," according to SCAI’s guidelines.

Malls will adopt these protocols as they begin opening up.

Retailers, on the other hand, who draw significant business from malls said while they are relieved with the prospect of malls opening, they will progress to open shops once developers reach desired rental agreements. These include waiving off rentals for the duration of the lockdown apart from switching to a revenue share agreement for the next few months.

“Yes, we are all geared up to open but we are waiting for agreements with malls to waive off lockdown period rental and move to revenue share agreements for the next six months. We will not open till we reach an agreement with malls," a top executive at a retail company said, speaking on condition of anonymity. In the absence of fresh rental arrangements “we could decide to permanently move out".

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