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COVID-19

Running a mall is “still a struggle” nearly a year into the pandemic

Kai Ryssdal and Andie Corban Feb 26, 2021
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Gil Cohen-Magen/Getty Images
COVID-19

Running a mall is “still a struggle” nearly a year into the pandemic

Kai Ryssdal and Andie Corban Feb 26, 2021
Heard on:
Gil Cohen-Magen/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Consumer spending rose 2.4% in January, gaining for the first time in three months. Personal income rose too, as Americans received stimulus payments from the government.

“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal checked in with Alana Ferko, manager of the Butte Plaza Mall in Montana, about how business has been recently. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: How are you?

Alana Ferko: You know, I am well. That’s the best I can tell you.

Ryssdal: Wow, well you’re usually pretty good, so “well” is a step down I think.

Ferko: I saw a thing on Facebook today, it said, “I’m halfway between losing my mind and finding my soul.” February is kind of like, it’s a tougher month on me because it is colder, it’s a little depressing. And circumstances, you know, I know things are getting better, so that is hopeful. So I will snap out of it.

Ryssdal: Yeah, I hear you, and look, we’re all hoping for the best. It’s been like four or five months now since we’ve talked to you. How has it been at the Butte Plaza Mall?

Ferko: You know, our stores are getting back to better. We try not to say normal because we don’t know what that’s going to be. We’re still trying to figure out the best routine. Our store hours are extending a little bit. Our theater is starting to get some fresher movies. So, you know, things are better.

Ryssdal: What’s the state of play with a couple of regulars there? First of all, I want to know about the mall walkers. Last time we talked to you, you had told them to not come anymore. Are they back? Are you gonna let them back? What’s the deal with them?

Ferko: You know, we did suspend walking, and we had to do it. There’s just too many health risks involved. But I believe March 13 is the one-year anniversary of the shutdown here locally. I’m hoping close to then to get them back in the mall and maybe restrict their walking hours, just have them walk in the morning. And locally right now — so we’ve got a population of around 33,000 here in Butte, Montana, and around 3,278 Butte residents are fully vaccinated.

Ryssdal: Yeah. You have a new governor there. He has lifted the mask mandate. Are you having a fight with people trying to come into the mall? I mean, I imagine as a private enterprise, you guys are allowed to require whatever you want, but are your customers agreeable?

Ferko: It’s still a struggle, almost daily. We do have it posted on our doors. And actually, our local health department is still enforcing a mask mandate. But it’s a struggle.

Ryssdal: I might have asked you this last time, and honestly, I can’t remember and I apologize. How much of your time — which is supposed to be spent managing this mall and ensuring your tenants and your customers are, you know, carrying out the business of the day — how much of your time is spent monitoring and managing this pandemic and masks and distancing and all of that?

Ferko: Actually, a lot of my stores or my businesses will call me to problem solve for them if there’s an argument, and I always show up with a mask or two. We just want to make it a safe environment for everyone. But my priority has got to be the health and safety of the businesses. Some people just want to see how far they can go, so they will be difficult. But most are reasonable, and those who are not, you know, we’ll just take a walk to the doors. And some people choose to leave, and that’s OK. That is their choice.

Ryssdal: So here we are in February, I imagine probably in Butte it’s going to be, I don’t know, like eight more weeks, 10 more weeks until you guys get springtime. Are you going to make it through the end of the long, cold winter?

Ferko: We are going to make it, we are. I’ve got to tell you, we can get through anything with this beautiful blue sky above us. I’m very much looking forward to springtime.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Give me a snapshot of the labor market in the U.S.

U.S. job openings in February increased more than expected, according to the Labor Department. Also, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in March. For all of the good jobs news recently, there are still nearly 10 million people who are out of work, and more than 4 million of them have been unemployed for six months or longer. “So we still have a very long way to go until we get a full recovery,” said Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the industries that have the furthest to go are the ones you’d expect: “leisure and hospitality, accommodations, food services, restaurants” and the public sector, especially in education.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

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