The University Mall in South Burlington has felt the pressure of bankruptcies and store closures — long-running issues for malls across America.
COVID-19 hasn’t helped, but some mall tenants are faring better than others.
In 2017, Credit Sussie estimated that within five years up to 25 percent of malls in the U.S. will close. Loss of business during the pandemic has resulted in even more hardship than predicted. In 2020, many chain department stores and tenants of malls nationwide are filing for bankruptcy.
“We’re seeing the challenges like the other malls,” said Heather Tremblay, general manager of The University Mall.
In May, the department store chain JCPenney declared bankruptcy. The company plans to continue operating but expects to permanently close hundreds of stores nationwide. The retailer recently closed two stores in Vermont. Now, the company’s only store in Vermont is in The University Mall, where mall managers have been able to help them with rent.
“We did some lease negotiations with them to help them and give them some relief,” Tremblay said.
The lease negotiation involved signing a new deal with JC Penny that helped to ensure the store would continue to operate in The University Mall.
Sears, another mall tenant that filed for bankruptcy, closed their store at the shopping center in 2020, prior to the pandemic. The space in the mall where Sears was operating will remain vacant according to Tremblay.
“They own their own buildings so we really can’t release that space,” Tremblay said.
With mall tenants nationwide closing stores permanently and no new stores taking their place, “there aren’t as many tenants out there to pick from and to open stores here,” said Tremblay.
Not all of the larger tenants are struggling.
Target and Kohls are doing quite well, said Tremblay.
With the mall completely reopened, The University Mall has seen positive trends in business.
“We have lost like a couple stores that have closed, but … we’ve definitely seen an increase in foot traffic,” said Matthew Warren, one of the part-owners of Vermont Gaming Academy and Bizarre Trader and Mana Burger in the University Mall food court.
“This mall specifically, I think has been doing really well compared to even just an average. This time last year, I don’t think this mall was doing as much business as they are today,” said Warren.
The increase of business and foot traffic is due to shoppers feeling comfortable enough to return to an indoor shopping center.
“I’m glad that more people are getting out and feeling that they can come back to the mall, into the library safely,” said Jennifer Murray, director of the South Burlington Public Library which is located in the University Mall.