MONTEBELLO, Calif. — Najla Kayyem has a motto for what her job has become this year as a result of COVID-induced restrictions: pivot, plan, pivot, plan.

"You’re working with multiple personalities and circumstances that are completely out of everybody’s control," said Kayyem, senior vice president of marketing for the mall operator, Pacific Retail Capital Partners.

The company manages 18 mall properties, including the Shops at Montebello, an indoor mall 15 miles east of downtown L.A. with 140 tenants, 80% of which are retail. Under the most recent stay-at-home order, the mall is currently restricted to 20% capacity. Indoor and outdoor dining for the two dozen food vendors is closed for anything but takeout or curbside pickup.

What You Need To Know

  • Like other malls in Los Angeles County, the Shops at Montebello are restricted to 20% capacity due to COVID

  • The mall has 140 tenants, 80% of which are retail

  • To help its retailers, mall management helped many of them set up e-commerce

  • In-person holiday events, such as the annual Christmas tree lighting and visits with Santa, have gone virtual

How do they keep it going?

“With a smile, number one,” said Marina Satoafaiga, marketing and business development manager for the Shops at Montebello. 

Pivoting, she said, is this year’s key word. During the holiday season, the pivot has been to offering virtual, rather than in-person, events like a Christmas tree lighting and Zoom calls with Santa, and leveraging TikTok and Instagram to promote its retailers' "12 days of giveaways" through December 25. 

It also means tracking customer traffic at its entrances. The mall created an entirely new position this year called a guest engagement associate. In addition to letting guests in as other guests leave to keep the mall at the mandated 20% capacity, mall staff walk the floor, reminding guests to wear masks and maintain physical distancing. 

“We’re seeing a trend in shopping this winter,” Satoafaiga said. “Guests are coming up, grabbing what they need, and walking out. They are aware of our occupancy limits. It’s almost as if they’re sensitive to other guests standing in line.”

Instead of the usual Black Friday rush, she said, the shopping season is stretching out and guests are coming at less peak times. Many of them are also shopping online through e-commerce sites mall management helped them set up, as well as an e-commerce portal the mall uses to help facilitate online shopping for pickup in-store or curbside.

“During the first closure, we got a handful of tenants online so they could do e-commerce,” Kayyem said. After the second shutdown, “it was amazing how many more hands went up,” she said, even for national brands. 

The Shops at Montebello are a mix of large retailers such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney, as well as destination retailers like Coach and Victoria’s, along with some independently operated stores.

“Digital is the name of the game right now, for sure,” Kayyem said. “Our goal is to keep stores in business – keep them operating and alive.”