The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a difficult blow to the shops in the Pueblo Mall, but merchants are starting to see signs of improvement.
“The last year has been an incredibly difficult time for brick and mortar retail and while most businesses are rebounding, there are unfortunately those that elected to close their doors including Victoria’s Secret, Verizon and Children’s Place,” said Cara Fitzgerald of Centennial which oversees the Pueblo Mall. “On the bright side, we were happy to welcome Osaka Poke & Ramen in December and they are being well received by our shoppers.”
Osaka Poke & Ramen owner Ray Zhu agreed that opening a business during a pandemic “is kind of a risk,” but said, “it’s going pretty good. Good in December but January and February, slow,” he said.
“The most favorite thing is the Japanese traditional ramen served with broth, that’s very popular. The Tonkotsu of spicy chicken that has the ramen or the bubble tea is selling really good right now,” Zhu said.
The Tobkotsu features a spicy white shoyu broth, choice of meat, bean sprouts, mushrooms, scallions and a soft egg.
The bubble tea or “boba” is an iced tea with milk and tapioca pearls. The drink can be ordered with green or black tea.
With the tapioca pearls floating in it, bubble tea is like a snack and drink rolled into one. Zhu offers several different flavors of bubble tea from strawberry to mango to honeydew or coconut.
“This is the only place you can get it. We use our imagination with the bubble tea — it is good you should try it,” he said.
Because of capacity limitations outlined by state and local health officials, the Pueblo Mall rolled out two new programs in response to changing consumer behaviors and shopping preferences, including Retail to Go and a first-to-market e-commerce platform called Shop Now.
“Both of these programs provide an opportunity for national and local tenants to not only survive, but thrive in a changing marketplace,” Fitzgerald said.
According to Daniel Leonardo of Pretzelmaker, the staff “were doing curbside delivery for a while but most people are coming in now. We are doing pretty good.”
He said even the delivery drivers are stopping in and getting a bite to eat.
“It’s a win-win,” Leonardo said.
Retail to Go continues for those who don’t feel comfortable visiting the mall to shop. Instead of going inside to get their purchases, customers can pick them up at the mall’s South entrance.
Retail to Go offers restaurants and retailers the opportunity to serve their customers with a contactless pickup transaction.
To use Retail To go, shoppers purchase their products or place an order via phone or online directly with the store. Those who would like to pick up their purchases in person may do so at designated areas located at the south entrance by T-Mobile.
Retail associates will deliver each shopper’s purchases to the customer’s vehicle, placing the purchase in the back seat or trunk. Base hours of Retail To Go are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Restaurant, entertainment and service-related business hours may vary. Customers can check the mall’s website for updates and special offers.
“As a result of the success of Retail to Go we launched a new e-commerce platform called Shop Now that enables customers to shop the mall using Pueblo Mall’s existing website,” Fitzgerald said. “Shoppers can then decide if they prefer to use the tool to purchase online, request curbside delivery or simply pre-plan for their in-person visit.”.
Customers are able to search for specific products from nearly all mall retailers.
“This is a first-to-market technology that truly merges the physical with the digital,” she said.
And even despite the pandemic, the mall walkers program has been able to continue, offering a warm place for residents to get some exercise on even the coldest of days.
“We still have quite a few patrons that continue to come out and walk the property. We aren’t opening early for the walker program, but are happy to see familiar faces throughout the day,” Fitzgerald said.
The mall continues to operate on a reduced hour schedule.
“While the pandemic is still at a critical stage, we will continue to operate on a reduced schedule and implement safety and wellness protocols to help guests feel welcome and safe. We have seen traffic continue to build over recent months as consumers become more confident to shop.
“We are hopeful that as (COVID case) numbers decline and the vaccine is more widely available, both shopping and dining will get back to more normal operations and we will be operating at 100%.”