Even before the pandemic hit, retail experts warned that malls were in trouble, threatened by changing tastes and shopping habits.
But to those who enjoy shopping in person, a welcome development in Nassau County was the reopening of malls, which have proven to be a massive sales tax revenue generator for the county.
Roosevelt Field in Garden City is the biggest shopping center in the region, and reopened July 10 after closing on March 19. Owned by Simon Properties Inc., which operates two other malls on Long Island, it has about 260 stores.
“It made sense to me that the malls open up with retail,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who initially advocated for malls to open up in phase 2 of the reopening. “The governor mandated that new filters to be put into malls for them to reopen. I know that our malls, including Simon Properties, did everything they could and quickly as they could to get those filters and other protocols in place.”
According to Curran, Roosevelt Field alone generates about $88 million in sales taxes, and about $35 million in school and general property taxes.
Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that in order for malls to reopen, they will have to upgrade their air filtration systems in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Air conditioning filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating capable of filtering COVID-19 particles or similar air exchange measures are now mandatory. A COVID-19 particle is approximately 0.125 microns in diameter. Filters with a high MERV, such as High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, have been shown to help reduce the presence of COIVD-19 in air filtration systems. According to Cuomo, these new filters should be MERV-13 or a higher rating and cannot be anything below a MERV-11 rating.
“Malls have installed state-of-the-art infiltration systems to clean the air of any contaminants,” Curran said. “We know that this is a heavy virus and we know that it can be blocked by special filters and by face masks. We want to prove, and we are proving, that we can come back and reopen if we continue to use common sense. It’s not complicated.”
Curran also said that malls are a real economic anchor for the county, stating, “Forty percent of our revenue from all the services that we [the county] provide come from sales tax. We’ve fallen off an economic cliff with the shutdown of the economy and our businesses. We estimate over the past four months, sales tax in Nassau County has dropped 30 percent.”
Roosevelt Field Mall employs more than 4,000 people. Business hours for the mall are also shortened. Sunday is noon to 6 p.m. and every other day is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
—With additional reporting by Anthony Murray