For nearly a year, Los Angeles County’s shopping malls resembled ghost towns amid lockdowns, restrictions and widespread stay-at-home orders. But with improving vaccination rates, falling virus numbers and easing restrictions visitors have been flocking back to retail centers.

As California is moving ahead to fully reopening its economy on June 15, malls are under pressure to adapt to high foot traffic and welcome more visitors.

“I’m not sure if more people will start shopping simply because June 15 rolls around,” said Steven Sayers, senior general manager at Glendale Galleria. “But we have been seeing a continued upswing in demand for the last several months. More people have been coming out shopping.”

Nearly 65% of consumers said last month they’d feel safe visiting a mall, a 7% uptick from a few weeks prior, marking consumer confidence in shopping in-person, according to consumer research company Morning Consult, which conducts weekly surveys among roughly 2,200 adults nationwide.

Despite the rise in online shopping amid stay-at-home orders, 45% of customers said they are excited to return to the malls, according to the data.

Since January there has been a 41% increase in foot traffic to stores and restaurants nationwide, according to the data from Zenreach, which measures store visits. Shops and restaurants in Southern California have seen a 124% bump in in-person visits since January, the data said.


At the open-air mall 2nd & PCH in Long Beach, foot traffic has mostly recovered and is near pre-pandemic levels, according to John Nahas, the president of Southern California CenterCal Properties.

Nahas credited part of the shopping center’s quick recovery to the fact that it’s not an enclosed space, but he also acknowledged that some essential businesses — like the Whole Foods that anchors the property — helped keep shoppers coming even in the worst of the health crisis.

And now, as June 15 nears, he said he expects the growth in customers to continue.

“As we approach the expiration of restrictions in Long Beach,” Nahas said, “we expect visitation to increase further as our tenants will be able to accommodate a higher volume of customers.”

Although new guidelines released in May don’t specifically mention shopping malls, physical distancing or capacity limitations will no longer be required at all businesses, starting mid-June. Restrictions at restaurants and bars will be lifted and the state will align with mask requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the state guideline.

Sayers said he anticipated no occupancy or social distancing restrictions but he didn’t expect clarity from the department of public health until midnight June 14.


“We’ve all become accustomed to dealing with uncertainty over the last year,” he said. “We would always like things to be certain because it’s easier to make a plan.”

Currently, there are fewer than 200 seats in the food court area in Glendale Galleria and after mid-June Sayers’ team was planning to add more seats to indoor and outdoor areas. Handwashing stations and sanitizer dispensers, he added, will remain available in the foreseeable future. Retail stores inside the mall, he said, might still require visitors to wear masks even after June 15.

“Housekeeping and security will still be wearing masks, probably even if they’re vaccinated just to give people that sense of safety,” he said.

Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield which runs 29 malls across the country, including ones in Sherman Oaks, Canoga Park, Century City and Culver City, said it was ready to return to full capacity later this month.

“What we expect is a rebound of the consumption very quickly,” said the company CEO Jean-Marie Tritant during a recent investor call. “The question for us is really being ready when there would be the economic rebound.”

David Simon, chief executive officer and president of the Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, which owns the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, said during a recent earnings call that “2020 was a difficult year for all those affected by COVID-19, including our company. We feel confident we have turned the corner, and we expect growth in earnings and cash flow in 2021.”


The company’s net income was $1.1 billion in 2020, or $3.59 per diluted share, a 17% percent decline due to slashed revenues from tenant rent abatements, higher rents and lower sales, Simon said.

While the vaccine rate is ramping up with nearly 50% of California adults having at least one dose, it remains to be seen whether the foot traffic will return to pre-pandemic levels.

To fully reopen in mid-June, Los Angeles County needs to show it has sufficient vaccine supply and maintaining stable and low hospitalization rates.

When it comes to June 15, a lot of things are still up in the air.

Los Angeles Supervisor Kathryn Barger said during a recent recovery-focused Policy on Tap discussion hosted by the San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce she didn’t know what the state health orders looked like but she would encourage the county to mirror the state’s guidelines.

“Businesses have been frustrated by the conflicting message between the state and the county,” she said.


With the e-commerce boom during lockdowns, malls and other brick-and-mortars are now under more intense pressure to reinvent themselves, but there is still a future for indoor malls, experts say.

“What you’re gonna see is more experiences in malls,” said California Retailers Association President Rachel Michelin during the Policy on Tap discussion. Malls are adding gyms, bowling alleys and other types of amenities to woo people in, she said. Shoppers can find a restaurant inside a department store or a complimentary glass of wine while they are browsing the shelves and running errands.

President of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association Stuart Waldman said as much as people survived the last 12 months by ordering online, they are not willing to do it anymore.

“There’s something about going to a mall and walking around,” he said. “For anyone who’s grown up in Southern California, a mall is part of their lives.”