VN video of the Harlem Irving Plaza(Video by Natali Perez and Andrea Vazquez)

Neighborhood Mall Harlem Irving Plaza Experiences Depreciation in Public Traffic

In correlation with the coronavirus pandemic, the local Northwest side mall, Harlem Irving Plaza, faces dramatic changes.

By Natali Perez and Andrea Vazquez

The COVID-19 pandemic has many businesses see a change in consumer traffic, particularly hitting restaurants and retail stores.

A mall that has experienced this is The Harlem Irving Plaza. The HIP is located by many surrounding Chicago suburbs which attracts many that are from these areas. It is located in the Norridge neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago. The mall is easily accessible by the Chicago Transportation Association (CTA), and features spacious parking, the mall has a high vistor capacity.

Bus Stop Access Points for the Harlem Irving Plaza. (GoogleMap By Andrea Vazquez)
Satellite view of the Harlem Irving Plaza. (Google Earth By Natali Perez)

The HIP is mall that is relatively small, yet it fits many essential stores that customers might need to go to for a quick errand including Target, Hobby Lobby, Five Below, Kohls and other convenient stores.

Just as many stores and restaurants worldwide, the HIP mall was part of the full closure order back in March during the US nationwide shutdown. After this shutdown, the mall was able to reopen in May once Chicago had entered Phase 3 of reopening.

As a smaller mall, the location holds a great risk of shutting down as COVID-19 brings down consumer traffic for several other malls across the country.

Along with reopening, the mall followed COVID-19 safety restrictions. These new restrictions included new mall hours and a slow reopening of select stores. In other words, stores were able to reopen at their discretion.

In continuation of these new restrictions, the mall then created social distancing signs located throughout the mall. This was created for customers to see the signs and understand the enforcement of these new rules.

Mall shopper stops by one of the hand sanitizer dispensers (Video By Andrea Vazquez)

To accommodate dining situations, the mall created an outdoor dining area for those who wanted to grab something from the food court while shopping. Indoor dining is restricted because consumers would eat in an enclosed space, with no air circulation. However, outdoor dining area faces the obstacle of being heated, making it a challenge for those wanting to dine-in during the fall and winter months.

Outdoor dining area with its chairs up because of closure. (Photo/ Natali Perez)
Outdoor dining area during closure. (Photo By Natali Perez)

Subsequently, since COVID-19 numbers have only been rising into a second wave, many food court employees express worry on how this will affect restaurants in the mall.

Employees at Touhy Fruity have observed customers and their respect to the new restrictions that the mall made due to COVID-19. Charnette Nutall and her manager Jaclyn Vasquez state the overall mood of consumers has changed.

“[customers are] not happy with it because a lot of customers like to sit down here and enjoy their food…and a lot of people don’t come because they don’t know where to eat…”.

Jaclyn Vasquez associates the importance of being able to dine in with the success of their business. The dramatic loss of indoor dining is said to be a cause of a downturn in business sales. The prohibition of indoor dining causes disruption in the shopping experience because customers tend to dine during or before their shopping experiences.

Vacant Food Court at the Harlem Irving Plaza (Photo By Natali Perez)

After discussing these devastating factors that have hurt small businesses such as Touhy Fruity, the renovations were then temporarily put on hold.

Despite the temporary setback, the addition of a second and third floor were added along with the opening of Hobby Lobby. The HIP mall had publicized their plans for renovation back in January of 2019, following the closure of Carsons.

According to a Chicago Tribune article, the renovations were expected to be completed by Fall 2020. However, given the temporary two-month setback of quarantine, the mall continues its renovation past Fall 2020.

A sign posted about the arrival of Hobby Lobby at the HIP. (Photo By Andrea Vazquez)

Hobby Lobby, which opened in August earlier this year, was seen as a favorable addition given that their stores appear to be only located in the suburbs.

In busy times, such as the holidays, the mall would be crowded with holiday shoppers. Traditionally, the HIP participates in Black Friday sales with popular stores such as Best Buy and Target. In addition to these things, people pay a visit to “Santa & Me”.

Upper view of Santa’s picture display on Black Friday weekend. (Photo By Andrea Vazquez)

While some store owners claim that despite the slow down in traffic, certain stores remain busy as ever.

Annemarie Dendening, of Rogers and Hollands Jewelers, claims “it’s been like Christmas at this store, my company is doing better than they’ve ever had”.

Annemarie also agreed with the significant shift in traffic and recalls the closing of Carson’s in 2018 as one of the factors.

While most clothing stores face a slowdown in traffic, Alize Flores, a Mandee’s Sales Associate, who has worked before the pandemic reflects on the shift in consumer traffic.

“as us [employees], our hours have gone down, considering it’s been so slow, so that’s affected us tremendously”.

Mandee’s associate interview clip. (audio by Natali Perez)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot advises residents to stay inside and not leave for nonessential activities. This puts these businesses at a downfall during their busiest time of the year. While many are preparing to be online or closed during the Black Friday weekend, it is to be determined how sale will be affected during this time.

“A lot of these stores are small stores, not big box stores. So why can all the big box stores stay open, but the small stores can’t? All the big box stores have been open, this whole entire time making their millions, but what about the little people who couldn’t afford it?” states Manager of Touhy Fruity, Jaclyn Vasquez.

What can be done to keep these smaller businesses at bay against major corporations in malls?

Communications student at the University of Illinois-at Chicago. Check out more publications and more information at @andreavazqu_ on Twitter.