King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall on the East Coast, remains open, despite the Pennsylvania governor recommending the closure of all “nonessential retail” in Montgomery County, where it is located.

Mall management said in a message on its website Friday that the mall is leaving it up to individual stores to decide whether to stay open through the coronavirus pandemic.

“With respect to Gov. Wolf’s statement, the governor did not mandate store closures and did not define what nonessential retail is,” the statement read.

Wolf and Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh said they considered supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations to be “essential.”

King of Prussia Mall is owned and operated by SIMON Property Group, which did not return calls and emails for comment.

The state’s own wine and spirits stores will also be staying open. “After consulting with the governor’s office, we have determined not to close any stores or limit hours at this time,” spokesperson Elizabeth Brassell said.

Asked why any private retailer should close if Pennsylvania’s own liquor chain is exempt, Brassell replied: “We can’t speak to how anyone else operates.” Last year, the PLCB set record profits on total sales of $2.67 billion, according to the agency’s most recent quarterly report.

Meanwhile, three of the Philadelphia region’s biggest employers are telling employees to work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting Monday, Independence Blue Cross will require all associates in its Philadelphia-area and New Jersey offices to work remotely until at least April 15.

Comcast on Friday encouraged headquarters employees in the Philadelphia region to work remotely through April 12 – if they have virtual work capabilities and can maintain important business functions. The Comcast Center campus will remain open for those who can’t work remotely, though the company is strongly discouraging external visitors.

The University of Pennsylvania is recommending that employees work remotely, beginning Monday and lasting at least through March 31. Penn, including its vast health and hospital system, is Philadelphia’s largest private employer, with more than 18,000 faculty and staff and more than 23,000 employees in its health system. The directive appears to cover the entire enterprise. Locally, Comcast and Independence employ roughly 12,000 and 6,000, respectively, according to a 2019 bond offering by the city.

As retailers ignored Wolf’s request to close, the Department of Health suggested that merchants rethink.

“Before utilizing his full authority to compel businesses to close for the purpose of protecting the public’s health, it is the governor’s hope that they will heed his strong recommendation to mitigate the spread of this disease,” said Nate Wardle, a health department spokesperson.

The Willow Grove Mall and Plymouth Meeting Mall, both owned by PREIT, have closed for the duration of the virus threat.

In New Jersey, the Cherry Hill Mall remains open and also stated on its website that individual merchants can decide whether to shut down.

The mall is owned by PREIT (NYSE:PEI), a publicly traded real estate investment trust.

Visitors to the Cherry Hill Mall enter and leave the mall late last year.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Visitors to the Cherry Hill Mall enter and leave the mall late last year.

One manager of a store in the King of Prussia Mall’s luxury wing — a stretch that includes Bulgari, Tiffany’s, Christian Louboutin, and Cartier — said the mall sent a letter to merchants saying the decision to close would be left up to each individual retailer. Shops that go on hiatus would not be fined if they decided to shutter for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re taking it day by day,” said the manager, who did not wish to be identified. “Approximately 50 stores have closed, so already there’s much less foot traffic.”

AJ Moore Exclusives on the second floor of the King of Prussia Mall hadn’t had a customer all week. “It’s super scary to walk in here and see an empty mall,” said the owner, AJ Moore, 41. “I’m paying $3,300 a month here, and I haven’t made any money in days.”

She’s been in business at the mall since November and is used to making $2,500 a week. Now she will try selling her wares, most of it clothing and jewelry she makes, on Facebook or Instagram, she said.

Airlines cut back

Hits to the airline industry from coronavirus continued to reverberate Friday, as American Airlines halted more international flights out of Philadelphia, and the CEO of Delta Air Lines warned of an “unprecedented revenue impact."

Cancellations are “rising dramatically" at Delta, and outpacing bookings over the next month, according to an internal memo obtained by CBS News. “The situation is fluid and likely to be getting worse,” the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, wrote.

For American Airlines, the dominant air carrier at Philadelphia International Airport, routes are now suspended between Philly and four additional European cities: Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, and Zurich. The flights are expected to resume May 7, the company said.

Earlier this week, American announced it was halting service between Philadelphia and Rome, as Italy put into effect nationwide limits on public activity and travel. American said it expects the PHL-Rome service to start again May 7.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said state stores will remain open in spite of coronavirus.
PLCB
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said state stores will remain open in spite of coronavirus.

Back in Montgomery County, Claire Gawinowicz, of Oreland, said she was struck by the number of open retailers, restaurants, and breweries near her residence.

“I think they’re in denial. I’m baffled,” said Gawinowicz, a 66-year-old retiree who described herself as immune-compromised after a bout with breast cancer. “No one is following Gov. Wolf’s directive. How effective is his message about closing if none of the stores are listening.

“For people like me, with a compromised immune system, it’s really unfair. I really feel I can’t leave my house now. They’re being selfish,” she said. “The virus will never stop spreading if people don’t follow the important messaging.”