Seeing few customers on Black Friday, a business in The Galleria was convinced at first that they should close up shop and leave the mall before the new year.
But when the mall management heard Friday that the tenant planned on leaving, it pulled the business back with assurance that a plan for the mall is about to unfold in early 2021.
In The Galleria food court, Ted’s Texas BBQ opened at 7 a.m. Black Friday hoping to interest shoppers in breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes.
With only two customers by 10 a.m., owners Tracy and Jim McCarthy dumped it all in the trash and made up their minds to leave The Galleria and focus solely on serving up their signature ribs and burgers at their Scalp Avenue location.
“Today was our last straw,” Tracy said in an empty food court Friday morning.
Ted’s Texas BBQ is one of only two vendors left at the food court, which used to feature seven.
The McCarthys rented on a monthly basis since September and said Friday they would not sign a lease in January.
But after The Tribune-Democrat contacted mall management for comment about the McCarthys’ plans to exit and the state of The Galleria, Spinoso Real Estate in Syracuse, New York, contacted the McCarthys with news that excited Tracy.
Details about Spinoso’s plans were vague, but McCarthy said it sounded “big.”
“Spinoso called us. They said ‘Please don’t do this. A bunch of national chains are coming in. I don’t want you to leave. Things will get better.’ And they offered us help to stay open here,” McCarthy said.
According to McCarthy, those new potential Galleria tenants could be visiting next week.
It was the kind of news she and other Galleria tenants had been waiting to hear for months.
When mortgage lenders opted to foreclose on The Galleria last year, Spinoso Real Estate Group was appointed by the courts as a receiver to take over mall management from Zamias Services Inc.
Spinoso’s role was to bring in new stores and help transition The Galleria for sale to a new owner or developer.
Not long after Spinoso took the helm of The Galleria in February, COVID-19 slammed the region and caused prolonged retail closures.
That impact has continued into the holiday season. On Black Friday, crowds were notably lower than past years because of the pandemic, customers said. COVID-19 has piled onto struggles of enclosed malls including The Galleria to compete with online shopping.
At the mall on Friday, Barbara Lodolinsky recalled memories of working at Sears – an anchor of the mall that has long been closed.
Today, two anchors – Boscov’s and J.C. Penney – remain, while Sears and BonTon are vacant. Many other stores have dropped off over the years. Most recently, Victoria’s Secret and Yankee Candle closed in the wake of the pandemic.
“There aren’t that many people here,” Lodlinsky said Friday as she shopped at Bath & Body Works. “When I worked for Sears, it was crowded. We’d be so busy, Black Friday would be over before you knew it. Today I’ve seen store associates in the stores milling around.”
Amish Store owner Matt Speed has held a location in The Galleria for the past three years.
“Black Friday sales determine the future of the next year.” he said.
He said there were more shoppers Friday than a usual weekday, but his forecast for sales over the next year is uncertain.
“It’s a toss-up. Should we stay or should we go?” he said.
Meanwhile, however, the scale has definitely tipped toward staying in the mall for McCarthy.
“After the conversation today it’s given me a lot more faith,” she said.
Spinoso Real Estate Group did not return calls to The Tribune-Democrat on Friday.
“I spoke with Nick. He’s our guy from Spinoso,” McCarthy said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to let you give up and close. We are going to do whatever it takes to help you. We will figure this out,’ ” she said. “They must have something going on. Because the people they have in here, they are trying to keep them. I trust them. I do.”