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Store owners in Plattsburgh mall call for reopening

PLATTSBURGH — The North Country has entered Phase 4, and the exclusion of malls has left some Champlain Centre tenants still shuttered and scratching their heads.

Lake City Hobbies owner Greg Nephew thought the state’s reopening plan would make regional decisions, but felt the local mall was following directives aimed at New York’s larger-scale shopping centers.

“You cannot lump Champlain Centre in the same category as Destiny (USA) in Syracuse or (Waldon) Galleria in Buffalo or some of the bigger malls in New York City,” Nephew said.

“We do not have the same density or population — especially with the border being closed.”

Phase 4 of 4

The state implemented New York Forward to regionally guide businesses back to work once certain coronavirus-related metrics had been met.

Many regions statewide had now entered Phase 4 of the plan, which was long advertised to be the final wave.

On Wednesday of this week, the state issued guidance for the phase, siting higher education, low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment, low-risk indoor arts and entertainment and media production as the industries that could reopen.

The governor was clear to exclude some sectors still, including fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys and indoor malls.

“Continuing to suffer”

The move left some in these industries shocked, including mall operators who felt their businesses were excluded from the reopening plan altogether.

While other restaurants, retailers and salons have already reopened for business, similar industries located within malls, like Champlain Centre, have been kept shut. Stores with their own outdoor entrances were exempt.

Plattsburgh town Supervisor Michael Cashman said it was like the rug kept being ripped out from underneath the town of Plattsburgh-based center and its tenants.

“Malls are not just made up of big-box stores,” he said, noting the local shopping center’s Lake City Hobbies, China Cafe, Bookburgh Books and others.

“They’re continuing to suffer.”

Last to open

Rhonda Dergham-Titherington operates mall-based hair salon DND Unisex and said her some 25 employees were eagerly awaiting the green light to get back to work.

While other salons in the North Country could re-open under Phase Two back in late May, DND had to wait for indoor malls to make the reopening list.

“What’s the difference between the mall or Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart?” Dergham-Titherington wondered. “I think we have a lot less traffic. I think the mall would take every precaution.

“I guess I am confused.”

Though the salon owner understood safety concerns and was grateful for any community support DND had received, she was bummed her stylists would miss out on sales opportunities during this time.

“Other salons were getting the big after effect of having an enormous amount of business pumped their way,” she said. “We’ll be the last one in the region to open.

“We’re not going to experience that.”

Air vent concerns

Mall operators have looked for answers regarding the continued closures and it has been rumored that heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, systems were the source of uneasiness among state health officials.

It has been said that those systems could possibly allow easier travel of COVID-19, which is an airborne infectious disease.

Pyramid Management Group, overseer of Champlain Centre, recently released a statement about the claims, stating, “While we can appreciate the State’s concern about the public’s health and safety, any reporting that suggests that HVAC systems within enclosed shopping centers are more likely to distribute the virus than HVAC systems within restaurants, barber shops, office buildings, museums and freestanding retailers already open, like Target, Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, TJ Maxx and others, is 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 continues.

“Numerous health and safety experts support the view that enclosed shopping centers present no greater risk of spreading the virus through their HVAC systems than standalone, freestanding retailers. If anything, the relative risk within our airy, enclosed malls may in fact be lower as we have done more than is necessary based on health and safety recommendations to improve the existing air filtration systems within our shopping centers to bolster the quality of airflow within our centers.”

“We just need to open”

Nephew thought, at the very least, the “leftover” businesses deserved a timeline.

“We need to have dates, we need to have times, we need to be able to quantify what has to be done to satisfy the concerns that the state has,” he said. “We can’t survive much longer.

“There are a lot of lives and livelihoods at stake here. I understand the safety concerns, but we’ve done everything that we’ve been asked to do.

“At this point, we just need to open.”

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