J.C. Penney gets top billing on signs at the Gateway Center. It's one of the anchor tenants at the expansive outdoor mall in East New York, Brooklyn, and has helped to make Gateway a shopping destination. But the J.C. Penney chain filed for bankruptcy in May, and is one of about half a dozen major retailers here that's having trouble staying afloat.
"These are businesses that I saw growing up so just to see them go out is disappointing,” one shopper said.
“Yeah I'll be worried that they're closing some of the stores,” added another.
J.C. Penney has not yet identified which locations will close, but NY & Company is shutting down its store in the Gateway Center, along with hundreds of others nationwide.
GNC filed for bankruptcy in June; GameStop says it plans more store closures. It’s the same plan for Bath & Body Works and Bed Bath and Beyond.
Pier 1 is already shuttered. Eddie Small, the senior real estate reporter for Crain's New York Business, said brick-and-mortar retailers were struggling with competition from online companies like Amazon even before the coronavirus swept across the country.
“So they were already not doing that great before the pandemic forced them to shut down almost all the stores for at least a few months and that just proved to be something that a lot of them couldn't handle economically," explained Small.
Because it is an outdoor mall, the Gateway Center is faring better than other major malls in the city, which cannot yet open because they are indoors. It also has a ShopRite and a BJs Wholesale Club, both considered essential businesses.
The mall's owners told us Gateway is enjoying dramatically increased foot traffic and is positioned to stay strong, as Nike signed a lease for the former Pier 1 space.
Still, Babies R Us occupied this site until the company liquidated three years ago. Dave & Busters was supposed to replace it, but that chain is struggling and construction was halted.
Shoppers say money is tight.
"I'm personally worried for myself right now. I don't have a job,” said one local.
Small said expects the economic downturn to be long lasting.
“For as long as coronavirus is a serious health problem, it's going to be a serious retail problem as well.”