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Mike Copeland: Challenges, good times at Richland Mall; Business restrictions likely; Chicken Salad Chick

Mike Copeland: Challenges, good times at Richland Mall; Business restrictions likely; Chicken Salad Chick

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The Richland Mall parking lot sits mostly empty in May, shortly before it was allowed to reopen. The mall’s owner and many of its tenants have seen financial struggles exacerbated by the pandemic, but mall occupancy remains high and other signs of hope remain for the operation.

‘Tis a mix of good times and challenging times for Waco’s only indoor mall, Richland Mall, at Waco Drive and State Highway 6.

COVID-19 or no, Santa Claus will leave the North Pole long enough to set up shop at Richland Mall. He arrived on Black Friday and will remain ensconced at JCPenney Court through Christmas Eve, according to a press release.

“Visits will be contactless, with families sitting 6 feet away to ensure proper social distancing,” mall marketing director Brad King said. “But don’t worry about those Christmas lists. Santa Claus can’t wait to hear what’s on your list and will still be available to talk with his little elves-in-training.”

Santa will be available for photos with children during much of his stay.

Parents need to book a reservation for a time, date and photo package at www.richlandmall.com/content/santa#Santa-Top. Walk-ups will be allowed during the first and last hours of the day, time permitting.

All visitors must wear masks before, during and after photos.

JC Penney, the retailer that has had a presence at Richland Mall since it opened in 1980, has filed for bankruptcy protection. No plans have emerged to close Waco’s store, and the company has recently announced deals that would keep operations going nationwide in a sale of the company’s assets to a group of its major landlords and lenders.

This is the first Christmas holiday shopping season for the newly remodeled Dillard’s store in Richland Mall. The chain of department stores spent almost $9 million converting the former Sears space at the mall to a 125,000-square-foot Dillard’s location anchoring the center’s north end.

Richland Mall is owned and managed by CBL Properties in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to restructure about $1.5 billion in debt, according to Bloomberg.

COVID-19 has hit CBL hard. The company that controls more than 100 properties in 26 states has seen many retail tenants themselves file for bankruptcy protection, mitigating their responsibility to pay leases. Some CBL properties contain movie theaters, also hit hard by the pandemic.

Bath & Body Works operates a popular store in Richland Mall, but one must wonder about its long-term future.

Still, the mall has been plundered before by the marketplace, with names including Old Navy, Forever 21, Gap, Best Buy and James Avery changing addresses. Impressively, the mall has refused to toss in the towel, having attracted a Dick’s Sporting Goods in 2018 and continuing to plug vacancies at a clip that keeps its occupancy rate well above 90%.

Business restrictions likely

Bar owners, beware. McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said Friday that COVID-19-related hospitalizations are trending at a worrisome pace. By Sunday, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 could exceed 15% of total staffed hospital beds for the seventh consecutive day in the five-county Trauma Service Area that includes McLennan County. As of Saturday, that hospitalization rate stood at 16.99%, with 105 COVID-19 patients compared to 618 total staffed hospital beds in the region. Assuming there is not an unexpected turnaround in one day, bars will have to cease operations to comply with orders from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that the county enforces, Felton said. Restaurants would have to reduce occupancy limits from 75% of capacity to 50%.

Toy drive on two wheels

A motorcycle club collecting new, unwrapped toys for low-income youngsters will rumble into the Magnolia Market complex at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Church Under the Bridge meets weekly behind the Magnolia Press coffee shop at Eighth Street and Webster Avenue, and Sunday marks the occasion when dozens of bikers visit the service to collect donated gifts.

Pastor Jimmy Dorrell said the public is invited. Social distancing and the wearing of masks is required for anyone attending.

Baylor philanthropy class

Baylor University has a small class that studies the fine art of giving. Its work this semester means seven local nonprofits will share $90,000, according to a Baylor press release.

Funding handled through the Philanthropy and the Public Good course comes courtesy of the Baylor/Waco Foundation and Aramark, and input is provided by a 25-member community board that considers criteria including economic development, health, education, cultural health and city growth. The course collaborates with the Fort Worth-based Philanthropy Lab. Since 2014, Baylor students enrolled in the class have given away almost $800,000 in grants to worthy nonprofits.

This year’s recipients include Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children, $5,000; Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central Texas, $10,000; Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of McLennan County, $15,000; Community Cancer Association, $8,500; Esther’s Closet, $25,000; Talitha Koum Institute, $21,700; and The Cove, which provides a safe place for homeless students, $4,800.

Local franchise honor

The local Byrider ownership group received the Franchise of the Year Award during the company’s annual convention in Indianapolis.

Byrider, which franchises used-car dealerships where customers make payments on-site, honored Mark Bedgood, Bill Evans, Dale Boone, Charlie Roster and their team which manages operations in Longview, Tyler and Waco. A fourth location opened last summer in Killeen, according to a press release.

The award carries special significance this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and “adapting to new norms,” Byrider CEO Craig Peters said in the press release.

Smaller Rainy Day contribution

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced last week he transferred a combined $2.27 billion into the State Highway Fund and the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the “Rainy Day Fund.”

About $1.13 billion went to each entity, about $500 million less than the $1.66 billion transferred to each fund in fiscal year 2020, according to a press release. The reduction was blamed on “the economic contraction associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and recent volatility in oil prices.”

Chicken Salad Chick

Chicken Salad Chick has announced it will have a grand opening Dec. 16 for its Greater Waco location.

It is occupying space at 1509 Hewitt Drive.

Chicken Salad Chick offers 12 salads in four categories: savory, fruity/nutty, spicy and traditional, according to the chain’s website.

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