The always outspoken CEO of mall owner Simon Property Group (SPG) says malls have been unfairly treated during the COVID-19 pandemic, looked upon falsely as breeding grounds for the spread of the deadly virus.
"The mall is safe. Even though we're starting to see counties talk about indoors, there's no science about the mall. I underline that. We've been mistreated in this whole 18-month ordeal, but it is what it is," David Simon told analysts on an earnings call Monday evening.
Simon cited various data he has been studying on the Delta variant around where his malls are located and reports from the retailers in his malls.
"In Florida where there are some upticks. We have not seen in an enclosed mall an uptick in COVID cases for the people that are in the mall, the staff, whether it's a retail or a management team, period, end of the story. No question about that. So, I personally think that people are just going to deal with Delta. I'm hopeful that people will get vaccinated. We're not going to mandate vaccines; we're going to encourage them. And I think we've got to keep being safe as possible going on with our lives," Simon added.
Simon owns or has an interest in 234 properties comprising 190 million square feet in North America, Asia and Europe.
The blunt take from Simon comes as the Delta variant spreads rapidly across the United States.
Florida and Louisiana were at or near their highest hospitalization numbers of the pandemic on Monday, according to Reuters. Hospitalizations in Arkansas are also reportedly on pace for a record.
The outbreak of the variant has caused some retailers to reinforce mask mandates. Walmart, Target and Home Depot are back to requiring masks for workers. Meanwhile, seven Bay Area locations (San Francisco) have reimposed indoor mask mandates.
The return of mask mandates — and potentially renewed lockdowns —stand to weigh on Simon Property as it gears up for the key back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons.
Simon encourages mask wearing, but isn't ready to make it a mandate at his malls.
"And where we need to mask up, we're going to mask up. And I think the consumer and the folks have all just dealt with it and are moving forward in that environment right now. So, I'm hopeful that as a country we don't get into these lockdowns they have produced...," Simon said. "I studied Sweden, I studied France, COVID reverts to the mean. Sweden did not lockdown, France did. And if you look at the chart on COVID cases, it all reverts to the mean; lockdown, no lockdown. So let us do our business, mask up if you need to, the mall is safe."
Simon Property's net income for the six-months ended June 30 clocked in at $1.063 billion, up $691.8 million a year ago.