FILE - This Feb. 16, 2010 file photo shows the headquarters of the Simon Property Group in downtown Indianapolis. Simon Properties said Wednesday, June 10, 2020, that it is pulling out of its $3.6 billion to buy rival Taubman, citing the coronavirus pandemic which has forced many malls to temporarily close their doors. It is the second major retail deal to fall apart due to the pandemic. (Danese Kenon/The Indianapolis Star via AP, File)

Buyer's remorse: Mall deal implodes as virus shakes retail

June 10, 2020 - 1:02 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s biggest mall owner is backing out of a $3.6 billion deal to buy a major rival as the coronavirus pandemic shakes the retail industry.

It is the second major retail deal signed before the virus hit the U.S. to crumble. The sale of Victoria's Secret to a private equity group fell apart last month.

Simon Property Group announced it would buy Taubman in early February, just weeks before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that a California man was being treated for coronavirus, the first known case in the U.S. In March, clothing stores and malls were ordered to close.

The plunge in sales for retailers since then has been unprecedented, particularly for those with a heavy presence in malls. J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and J.Crew, have all filed for bankruptcy protection this year.

Victoria's Secret moved aggressively into malls at the direction of its parent company's founder Les Wexner, who wanted to push lingerie into the mainstream.

Malls have struggled for years as shopping moved online and consumers grew tired of them. Their plight even inspired a haunting YouTube channel called the Dead Mall Series.

The coronavirus has delivered a devastating blow to those that remain and also stores with a big mall footprint.

In malls that have reopened, drinking fountains are disabled or taped off, play areas for kids are closed, and sitting in a food court is done at a distance from other humans.

Retail consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen believes that half of the 1,000 malls in the U.S. will either close or be unrecognizable in two years. Before the pandemic, he expected only 300 to close, and that decline would take place over a decade.

The pandemic has accelerated that timeline. CBL, a Chattanooga, Tennessee, mall operator with 108 properties, warned this month that it may fail.

On Wednesday, shares of any retail chain with stores in malls plummeted. Kohl's, Macy's, The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch all slumped sharply.

In its legal complaint Wednesday, Simon said that Taubman is uniquely vulnerable because most of its properties are indoor malls “that many consumers will avoid.” Simon also said in the filing that Taubman had failed to cut costs during the pandemic and instead took on more debt to pay those costs.

Taubman Centers Inc., headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Simon, based in Indianapolis, owns or has a stake in more than 200 properties in the U.S. as of last year. Taubman Centers owns, manages or leases 26 shopping centers in the U.S. and Asia, including The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, and Waterside Shops in Naples, Florida.

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AP Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio in New York contributed to this story.

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