On March 16th, we penned a message to our wider network, in light of the rapid spread of COVID-19, saying: “… the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve, tenants, clients and staff is the highest priority for us.” That was the kick-off of our telework policy that saw our McLean, VA office closing (except for essential personnel), and the majority of our staff transitioning to remote work – although we assure you that we are very much operational and available.
Several weeks later, we’re pleased that we took pre-emptive measures to protect our staff and clients. Health authorities have confirmed that the social distancing and self-isolation protocols are our best bet at flattening the curve of infection. Since these actions have been put in place, we’ve seen a phenomenal shift in how everyone’s interacting while physically distancing themselves and virtually working together to support each other.
Our President, Henry Fonvielle said “Our priority is the health and well-being of the communities we serve. Our business continuity plan enables us to offer uninterrupted services. We are using technology platforms to communicate with and among our staff, conduct virtual meetings, and continue all of the critical functions we need to perform.”
We may be apart, but we are not alone: Today, we understand from news media that something in the region of a third of the world’s population is in one state of “lockdown” or another.
Viewed in this light, it is a remarkable human feat of cooperation – committing to curtailing our individual movement for the greater good of people around the world. These are really unprecedented times.
We’ve also been inspired by an avalanche of kindness that is sweeping the retail shopping center industry and the world right now, as people put their heads together, to come up with creative ways to support each other and unite against this coronavirus threat.
We may be out of touching range, keeping six feet between us, but the spirit and support shown is truly touching.
Real people, unreal actions
Many of our tenants are living the principles of community that will see us through this health crisis. Over at South Riding Market Square, Ford’s Fish Shack established “Ford’s Family Fund” to support their 155 employees who have been furloughed. All gift card sales (from March 17-31) will be donated to the fund. They’re also contributing additional funds to give their staff income at this tough time. Victory Martial Arts (Village at Leesburg) has shifted to virtual classes, and are offering them for free to keep kids entertained and spirits up during the lockdown.
If you want to help there are many things you can do on a personal level, including buying gift cards, tipping generously, and shopping local online. Marketwatch put together an excellent list of suggestions, available here.
On the broader edge of the wedge, ICSC has joined a coalition of business communities, lending their voice to the establishment of a ‘COVID-10 Business and Employee Continuity and Recovery Fund’. ICSC is the preeminent membership organization for retail real estate professionals. This fund would be underwritten by the federal government, and would offer a holistic approach to supporting businesses in these extraordinary times.
There are so many more examples, including pet food deliveries, gym and yoga classes moving online, and curbside pick-ups to keep our local “mom-and-pop” shops in business. Cinema owner Mark O’Meara has had to shut his multiplex doors, but continues to sell “curbside concessions” like large tubs of popcorn – taking his inspiration from traditional takeout places. Our own Alex Shiel purchased 20 pizza kits from All-Purpose Pizzeria at Riverfront. It’s part of their ‘stay afloat’ efforts, and he used these to challenge his industry colleagues to a bake-off. We’ve never been so proud to be part of the retail shopping center industry.
And we have chosen to show our support of The Great American Takeout campaign, established by a coalition of restaurants. To this end, we’ve printed and hung banners in front of retailers and restaurants still offering takeout and delivery options, while practicing social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. To support these companies, look out for our 200-plus big green banners at several of our centers around DC, MD and Northern VA.
It’s important to acknowledge the efforts happening inside our team. This past month, we have had individuals in the team pivot to focus solely on tenant rent relief requests, as well as coordinating and responding to tenants, and communicating with owners on a daily basis. It is a staggering responsibility, and I want to thank everyone for their work and commitment on this very stressful and overwhelming task.
I have witnessed a true and selfless willingness of the Rappaport Team to step up and help one another out. These are strange and difficult times for us all, but we will get through it together.
Finally, our CEO, Gary D. Rappaport hosted a webinar focused on leadership during uncertain periods. He discussed the future of retail in the context of the COVID crisis, providing his take on how business executives can provide strong leadership and guidance. To watch the recording, click here.
The way forward
Yes, we still have tough weeks ahead: closed borders and schools, healthcare facilities under intense pressure, entrepreneurs and businesses – especially those that rely on foot traffic – will be taking strain. And that’s before we even consider the human cost of this virus. We also know, however, that we are forming social bonds that will shape us beyond the current challenges and into a brighter, kinder future.
Stay safe, and look after each other!
Stephen R. Pugh, COO