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Outlets Williamsburg looking to replace businesses lost during pandemic

Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 1:17 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -COVID-19 has changed the way we do so many things - how we work, go to school, how we travel, and how we shop. Many retailers are feeling the brunt of those changes - and its hurting their bottom line. Leaders at Outlets Williamsburg are pushing to replace some of the businesses they’ve lost during the pandemic.

Its 3 weeks until the grand opening for the women’s clothing and decor store Boho Bell. Manger Jordan Brannaman wants to make sure everything goes well.

“Anybody opening a business right now is taking a huge leap of faith,” she said. That’s why they are opening through the outlet mall’s pop up program.

A business only has to sign a 3 month lease, with leaders hoping it becomes permanent. The program started before the pandemic, but they are really pushing it now to fill some of the vacancies.

“We’re not locked into a huge long lease,” said Brannaman. “3 months is the perfect time it’s going to get us through the holidays. We think it will be a great program for us.”

Right next to Boho Bell is an empty building. The outlet mall has lost 4 national retailers since the coronavirus hit. It also closed for 2 and a half months at the beginning of the pandemic.

Leaders say its local businesses like Fetch Pet Center that’s thriving. Owner Tim Kahler isn’t part of the program, but is thankful for community support.

“So many people that I talk to during the course of the day are really focused on supporting small businesses,” said Kahley. “Getting back to basics of this is our community, and we are going to support our community.” That’s why they want local businesses to use the pop up program. Brannaman hopes their leap of faith works out.

“It’s just a really great way to test the waters,” she said. “See who we can get through here. We think we offer something different than a lot of other stores.”

Mall leaders are confident that outlet malls will survive during the pandemic. “All indicators show that outlets are bouncing back faster than regular retail,” said General Manager Kristie Wejen. “The value proposition is better at outlets. Almost all outlet malls are outdoor facilities, so people are more comfortable shopping that way then they are indoor malls.”

They are also opening a dog park in November to attract shoppers.

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