Feature: Turkey's shopping mall industry less impacted by pandemic

ISTANBUL, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's hundreds of shopping malls have been relatively spared from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging as a new public space during the health crisis.

The first mall in the country was opened in 1988 in the European side of Istanbul, Turkey's financial hub. Today, the country has 454 shopping centers in 65 of its 81 provinces, with 44 more ones to be built.

These malls have become somewhat of a symbol of wealth, prestige, and even a norm for a modern Turkish city, transforming the urban way of life in the country.

Shopping centers were closed for over two months during the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in March. But they have been spared from the newly-installed lockdown, which was imposed by the government weeks ago to curb the recent surge of coronavirus cases.

The Council of Shopping Centers (AYD) joined up with businesses that have been seeking to certify their safety with a "Safe Service Certificate" to raise confidence in hygiene and other standards.

In the Panora shopping mall located in a residential area of the capital Ankara, shops are displaying this certificate at their entrances.

"We are abiding by all the health rules, and our clients are happy with that, but we also know that many customers still feel unsafe and avoid centers like ours," Kursat Calik, a cosmetics shop manager at the Panora mall, told Xinhua.

He noted that most visitors nowadays enter the shopping mall with a clear idea of what they want to purchase and leave as soon as possible, without browsing other stores.

"Our sales are down because of the pandemic. But we are happy with what we have got. At least, the mall is still open for business, and we didn't lay off any of our workers," Calik said.

Inside the mall, a female customer said she likes to shop here because it is convenient as she lives close by. However, she also worried about the safety issue during the pandemic.

"I plan to stay in the mall for 30 minutes at most. I will try to find what I am looking for and then leave," she added.

Shopping mall management has reduced rents for retailers, and in many places, they have been linked to revenues, the AYD said.

Huseyin Altas, head of AYD, confirmed that there were changes in customer behavior. "Malls served as a place to spend long hours. Now, people only visit them to buy goods they have in mind ... Still, we haven't seen any significant loss in profits," he recently told local reporters.

Turkey has closed cafes and restaurants, except for deliveries and takeout, and suspended in-class schooling, as the country is experiencing the worst increases in the number of infections since the outbreak in March.

Shopping mall owners expect to realize last year's turnover by the end of the year. Stores have already achieved 75 percent of last year's turnover, with some stores even reaching 90 percent, said Murat Izci, partner of shopping mall management and leasing company KDM.

Izci told the Sabah daily that the remaining 25-percent loss was due to a lack of tourists hit by travel bans imposed by several European countries.

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