CARMEL VALLEY — One Paseo opened up its doors again last week after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the new mall to go quiet.
The 1.18 million-square-foot, multi-use center had only been open for about a year when the state’s shelter-in-place order brought business to a grinding halt in March.
But all of One Paseo’s 44 retail tenants have managed to make it through the crisis, welcoming customers back to a new socially distanced, highly sanitized reality.
“It’s definitely a new normal we weren’t used to before, but we’re getting used to it now,” said Alex Farris, general manager of One Paseo restaurant International Smoke.
But even during quarantine, the mall’s retailers did not miss a beat.
Over a dozen were able to stay open in some form throughout the current crisis — with restaurants serving food to go, and a few of the shops participating in a garage drive-up and pick-up program — a to-go model of shopping that One Paseo will continue operating beyond quarantine.
One of the center’s boutiques, Whiskey & Leather, shifted focus to online sales, although according to owner Ariel Hujar, it was nothing short of a challenge.
“It’s hard to keep up with the online market, but we made the best of it,” she said. “Our customers were amazing during this whole thing. Without the customers, there’s no way we would be here today.”
The boutique’s staff took advantage of the time closed to clean the store, paint, and fill online orders for garage pick-up — coming into the store at least five days a week to keep things running.
Hujar said the female-run company — which opened its first location in Santa Barbara about five years ago — was just starting to gain traction at its new Carmel Valley location when COVID-19 hit. She estimates the shop’s sales dropped by about 40% in March, and about 60%-70% in April due to the loss of customers.
She is hoping that the influx of residents and workers to the center’s living and office areas will generate more foot traffic as doors open back up.
The mall’s restaurants have also had to shift dramatically. International Smoke opened up in mid-June after relying on delivery-only for the last several months. The restaurant is opening at less than a third of its original capacity to keep tables six feet apart. But according to Farris, so far so good.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “We opened last Thursday, and an hour into service, the tables we had available were all full.”
The restaurant — which has three locations nationwide — developed a playbook to guide employees through safety concerns. Employees go through a checklist of symptoms and are temperature-checked before work, and during their shifts they wear the appropriate personal protective gear.
And despite having to furlough their entire staff of over a hundred when the pandemic hit California, International Smoke has brought back about 30 employees now.
The center at large is adjusting — with communications regarding safety protocols starting at the parking garage and maintained throughout the center “without being too obtrusive,” said Brian Lewis, One Paseo’s senior vice president of retail development. The center is implementing its fair share of sanitation measures and increasing security to enforce social distancing rules.
In addition to bringing customers back to a safe and clean atmosphere, Kilroy Realty — the center’s developer — has been working closely with tenants to help them weather the storm.
Kilroy extended a relief package to tenants who were struggling, immediately offering two months of rent deferment going into the crisis. That deferment was later extended to almost 120 days.
“We knew there were going to be some short-term pains, and it ended up being a lot longer than anybody anticipated,” Lewis said.
Despite the obvious struggles of retailers at large, the center has continued filling its 608 residential units throughout quarantine — according to Lewis, over a third are now occupied. The center’s office component will be open by the end of 2020.
The project’s residential and office anchors will be nearly 80% occupied by the end of the calendar year, said Lewis.
“It’s going to be a huge shot in the arm (for retailers) when the rest of the land uses come online,” he said.