What's in store?: Business owners, officials ask for mall re-opening guidance

MCKENZIE DELISLE/STAFF PHOTO

Greg Nephew, owner of Lake City Hobbies in Champlain Centre, speaks during a Monday morning press conference outside of the Town of Plattsburgh-based shopping center. Nephew and area officials spoke on the mall's continued closure under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's executive order, asking state officials to reconsider. Nephew said he and the mall's other local shop owners were in danger of permanent closures and said, with other retailers open across the region, that they hoped for "equal treatment."

PLATTSBURGH — Area officials and small town shop owners gathered outside Champlain Centre Monday morning, pleading the state to reopen the upstate New York mall. 

North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas said, while the Empire State was doing well on the health and reopening sides of things, he thought the North Country was doing "especially well." 

"If you're not quite ready to reopen mall interiors in downstate New York," Douglas said, aimed at state officials, "then start with the region that is the lowest risk and has done the best job.

"Open the one region. Let us be the trial."

PHASE FOUR EXCLUSION

The North Country and other regions entered Phase Four of the state's reopening plan New York Forward this past weekend, opening up the Higher Education, Low-Risk Outdoor Arts and Entertainment, Low-Risk Indoor Arts and Entertainment and Media Production industries.

The plan's fourth phase had long been advertised as its last, leaving many to assume all "leftover" industries would be cleared to resume business. 

Upon issuing guidance, however, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said some sectors hadn't received the OK, excluding fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys and indoor malls from the final phase.

The move upset many, including small business owners located inside Champlain Centre, who called the exclusion unfair and had said their shops wouldn't survive the shutdown much longer. 

'HOW UNFAIR IS THAT?'

Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) orchestrated the Monday morning press conference, which had attracted about 20 spectators, including some of the mall's local shop owners. 

Jones called on the state to "level the playing field," noting the retail shops and personal care shops that had been opened for weeks throughout the North Country. 

The assemblyman even pointed to "big box stores" at the mall, like Target and Best Buy, that, using outdoor entrances had been cleared for business, as well. 

"How unfair is it that our small businesses and their employees can't open back up right inside that building, when other businesses around here can? It's unfair," Jones said. "We want to level the playing field and we want to do it today."

Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman expressed a similar sentiment, feeling the local mall was being compared to the larger ones throughout the state, like the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa on Long Island. 

"The size and scale (of that mall) is nothing compared to this, and that's not to diminish what we have here with our businesses," the supervisor said. "Why are we put in the same box? It's inappropriate and it's damn-right angering. It's soul crushing.

"My commitment on behalf of the Town of Plattsburgh, my commitment on behalf of the region is that we will do everything we can and that we will be dogged in our approach, but we need New York State to be our partner right now, more than ever." 

AIR VENTS & AN AIRBORNE VIRUS

Late last week, there was discussion surrounding the heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, systems of indoor shopping centers. A question arose about the quality of such systems, wondering if they could allow for easier COVID-19 travel. 

Pyramid Management Group, who manages Champlain Centre and other malls statewide, had released a statement appreciating the state's public health and safety concerns, but saying any suggestion that the HVAC systems of indoor malls were more likely to distribute the novel coronavirus were "simply false." 

"The quality of overall air circulation in our shopping centers, which also benefit from considerable open and airy corridors, is as good or better than those venues that have been allowed to re-open," the statement had continued. 

On Monday afternoon, after receiving no prior guidance, Gov. Cuomo said, before indoor malls could reopen, they were to have high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters in their ventilation systems, which were capable of trapping the airborne virus.

As of that evening, Pyramid Management Group had not released a statement about the filters in relation to the group's New York-based malls. 

WHAT'S THE PLAN?

Chris "Simpson" Ntuien, owner of Nineties Nail & Spa in Champlain Centre, said his business and its four employees were ready to reopen. 

The nail salon has operated in the mall for about 10 years, creating a baseline of customers that Ntuien said he was afraid to lose, but the salon owner was worried about the lack of income these last three months of closures. 

"We're ready," he said. "We fought it here and we won. Why (do) we have to close all of the time? We need to open." 

Fellow local owner Greg Nephew, of Lake City Hobbies, said he and others sought state guidance more than anything.

"I'm asking the state and I'm asking the governor: Please give us guidance on what we need to do so that we can do it," he said. "COVID-19 doesn't discriminate, but we're being discriminated against, because we're inside of a shopping center. 

"We're not asking for special treatment, we're asking for equal treatment."

ACT QUICKLY TO SALVAGE

Clinton County Legislature Chairman Mark Henry said the county's Health Department was ready to help Champlain Centre's businesses through their eventual reopening. 

"There are, I think, approximately 50 businesses located here in this mall and many of them are small businesses which, along with their many employees, are frustrated and still facing uncertainty about their futures," Henry said Monday. "They have waited patiently these many months through phases one, two, three and now four, with no answer yet in sight.

"We urge the governor to act as quickly as possible so that these business owners can safely reopen, salvage their businesses and put their employees back to work."

Email McKenzie Delisle: 

mdelisle@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle

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