Grand Bazaar Shopping Complex

ABOVE - A bike police officer on patrol at Grand Bazaar Shopping Complex.

—Photos: Kimoy Leon Sing

The tenants of Grand Bazaar Shopping Complex have not buckled under the unrelenting challenges in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unlike its northern counterparts, Trincity Mall and Long Circular Mall, which have been rendered virtual ghost towns due to public health restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus, it has had the opposite effect in the Central shopping hub.

This has come about due to the actions of the Grand Bazaar landlord, the publicly listed ANSA McAL conglomerate.

Slow foot traffic and dismal sales have impacted most retail spaces in T&T since the onset of the Covfid-19 pandemic in March. But some mall owners have burdened their tenants with rental arrangements more in keeping with the pre-Covid period.

That has meant that several tenants at Trincity Mall, Long Circular Mall as well as The Falls at West Mall and Gulf City Mall have not been able to renew their leases, or have sought to terminate lease arrangements that they complain are out of sync with the revenue generated by stores.

ANSA McAL chief executive, Anthony Sabga III, said the group of companies, T&T’s largest indigenous conglomerate, took a conscious decision at the onset of the pandemic to maintain the tenants at Grand Bazaar.

“We did quite a bit to support our tenants to help keep them going through this tough period for retail in T&T and the world,” said Sabga, adding, “We decided that we would carry some of the burden of the Covid pandemic. By and large, we are doing what we need to do for our customers at Grand Bazaar, who are the tenants there.”

Asked why ANSA McAL supported its tenants in a way other retail landlords have not, Sabga said: “This may sound cheesy, but we do pride ourselves on putting people first. To a great extent, ANSA McAL is a family organisation and what we have done at Grand Bazaar is treat our tenants like family.”

He pointed out that the group has not sent anyone home during the Covid-induced downturn in the retail sector. This was done purposely to contribute to keeping the economic multiplier in the country going, he said.

The ANSA McAL group’s results have been “deeply impacted,” Sabga said, noting that the “corporate citizenry” the group extended to the Grand Bazaar tenants is “probably not sustainable”.

For the six months ended 30th June 2020, ANSA McAL revenue fell by $364 million or 12 per cent to $2.73 billion, while profit before tax (PBT) generated fell by $244 million or 62 per cent to $147 million and after-tax profits declined by 68 per cent to $96.6 million.

But the conglomerate’s assets increased by 4 per cent to $15.7 billion for the six months ended June 30, 2020, compared with the year-earlier number. And its cash position was nearly 15 per cent higher at $1.66 billion for the first half of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

ANSA McAL Business sector head for real estate, Brett McIntosh, told Express Business it made no sense as a company to make a difficult situation even more challenging for tenants.

McIntosh said since the pandemic came to T&T’s shores on March 12, ANSA McAL has reduced and even waived rental fees for its Grand Bazaar tenants.

“It is a decision the company has stuck with for the past six months and will continue to revise and monitor as the situation unfolds,” he said.

According to McIntosh, rental fees were reduced for tenants anywhere between 25 and 100 per cent.

Though economic uncertainty remains moving forward through the second wave of the virus, McIntosh said, “This move is just us being responsible landlords. We didn’t ask tenants to shut their doors. It was a requirement at the time, and based on the conditions, we thought it was the best thing to do.”

The Express Business visited the shopping complex and spoke to tenants, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

One retailer said while activity at Grand Bazaar has had a sharp decline, he has noticed customers’ spending habits have changed.

“We don’t get a lot of people daily, and those that do come in want gym gear and exercise equipment. I guess people have more time to train at home instead.”

He says the usual influx of people they will get for the pre-Christmas season is nowhere close to what they got last year.

Once in stock, phones, laptops, and other devices are quickly sold out, said another retailer.

Many of the clothing and jewelry stores remained almost devoid of customers when the Express Business visited the shopping complex on Monday. However, work shoes, handbags, and organisers remain popular items for consumers, retailers said.

Furniture and appliances stores also had 15 per cent and 20 per cent discounts on selected items. Some of the items on sale included refrigerators, stoves, office desks, televisions, washers and dryers, living room and bedroom sets.

In the United Kingdom, government legislation has been enacted to prevent landlords from issuing statutory demands against commercial tenants if they fail to pay their rent in full or on time.

This piece of legislation called the Coronavirus Act 2020 is a temporary measure set aside to protect commercial tenants from rent collection until the end of the year.

The only exception is if landlords can show that non-payment is not caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

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