GUILDERLAND — Crossgates Mall is ready to reopen but the state still isn’t ready to let it, apparently.
Mall management and merchants joined with elected officials outside the Capital Region’s largest shopping center Thursday to make the case for reopening as the region recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As retailers, malls had been on the list of businesses that could reopen in Phase 2, but shortly before the first regions of New York began Phase 2, state officials crossed larger malls off the list. Only mall stores with exterior entrances could reopen.
There has been no indication when malls will be allowed to reopen. Other facilities attracting large numbers of people — arts, entertainment, recreation and education facilities — are scheduled for Phase 4 but malls haven’t been added to the list.
Assembly members Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, and John McDonald, D-Cohoes, hosted a news conference Thursday in the nearly vacant parking lot to press state officials for approval for malls to reopen, or at least for the release of a timetable for their reopening.
Crossgates is similar to the big-box retailers that have been allowed to operate all through the pandemic, Fahy noted, but it has a bigger impact: The mall and its stores employed 2,721 before the shutdown, had an annual payroll of $41 million, generated $34.4 million in sales tax and paid $7.3 million in property taxes.
While polite and circumspect, the message of the all-Democrat lineup of state, county and town officials was essentially the same as the message broadcast more bluntly by some upstate Republican leaders: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being too slow and overly cautious in reopening.
Fahy noted that neighboring states have begun to allow their malls to reopen, and said the 16-page safety and sanitary protocol prepared by Crossgates owner Pyramid Management for its malls is as comprehensive and detailed as any she’s seen.
The late-hour decision to keep malls larger than 100,000 square feet shuttered matches with other infection-control decisions by the Cuomo administration that have come without warning or explanation. Last week, for example, the shell-shocked restaurant industry got 10 hours’ notice that it could start offering outdoor dining the next day.
Fahy said she, McDonald and 10 other upstate legislators sent a letter June 1 to Cuomo seeking explanation of the continued shutdown of malls and never received a reply.
Guilderland Town Supervisor Peter Barber said that dealing with a health crisis outweighs resolving an economic crisis, but Cuomo’s pursuit of this goal seems arbitrary at times. The small merchants in the mall and elsewhere that are being kept shut down should be able to enforce hygiene measures as well as a big-box store can, he added.
Crossgates General Manager Michael Gately said the mall has been making extensive preparations to reopen safely since the mall closed back in March. Provisions include one-way entrance doors, one-way corridors, masks for anybody who needs one and plenty of hand sanitizer. He said mall security would attempt to educate people who refuse to cover their faces but didn’t say they’d be ejected from shopping center.
As of Thursday, five Crossgates retailers are open and a dozen others are offering curbside sales, while two restaurants have sit-down exterior dining.
As the assembled officials and merchants spoke Thursday in Guilderland, Cuomo gave his daily briefing in the Capitol a few miles east.
Five regions of New York are cleared to enter Phase 3 on Friday, he said, among them the Mohawk Valley, which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.
The Capital Region will be eligible for Phase 3 as soon as Wednesday.
Under Phase 3, indoor restaurant dining and personal care services such as tattooing, piercing, massage, manicure, tanning and waxing can resume, with restrictions.
- Cuomo gave municipalities discretion to open their swimming pools and playgrounds and urged them to decide based on what their communities’ infection numbers indicate, not what their residents want.
- Schenectady County SummerNight, which was set for July 10, was canceled for 2020. The long-running event has repeatedly packed downtown streets with more than 10,000 people, a no-no in the time of COVID.
- The Washington County Fair was canceled for 2020.
- Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy noted that Department of Motor Vehicles offices will reopen on a limited basis in regions that enter Phase 3. He also noted that garage sales and yard sales may resume in Phase 2, if the number of attendees is kept in check.
- The state’s official death toll increased by 36 to 24,442, among them a Schenectady County woman in her 30s and an Albany County woman in her 80s.
- Nearly 3,000 people were tested for COVID-19 in the eight-county Capital Region on Wednesday and only 19 positive test results were recorded. Schenectady County tested 550 with just one positive. A single day isn’t statistically significant — rolling averages are a better indicator. On a seven-day average, Capital Region residents are testing positive at a rate of 0.7%, third-lowest in the state after the North Country (0.1%) and Southern Tier (0.4%) regions.