Gap Plans to Reopen Up to 800 Stores by the End of May

Sapna Maheshwari

Gap Inc., the mall stalwart that owns its namesake brand, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta, said it plans to reopen up to 800 stores in North America by the end of the month as retailers clamor to return to business after temporarily shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our goal is to be responsibly aggressive,” Sonia Syngal, chief executive of Gap, said in an interview on Tuesday. “Every retailer will have its own opening strategy, but suffice it to say we are looking to open where we’re legally allowed to open as soon as we can.”

The plan follows similar strategies announced in recent weeks by Macy’s, the owner of Bloomingdales and Bluemercury, and Simon Property Group, the biggest mall operator in the United States.

Retailers that sell nonessential goods, especially clothing, have been eager to reopen as their sales have plummeted, promising new safety protocols for the pandemic era, including plexiglass partitions, hand sanitizer stations and face masks for their employees.

Foot traffic to stores had been down even before the virus outbreak, and it remains to be seen how quickly shoppers will return to the newly refashioned environments while the country continues to grapple with a highly contagious virus.

Ms. Syngal emphasized that most of Gap’s revenue did not come from indoor malls, pointing to Old Navy locations at strip malls, its outlet business and online business. Old Navy, in particular, is “very, very relevant for what people are wanting right now,” she added, with apparel for families and active-wear available at off-mall stores.

Gap said it would start reopening stores this weekend in Texas, though it declined to share the number of locations that would welcome customers. The company said it anticipated 800 re-openings this month, based on changing decisions by state and local authorities and a patchwork of restrictions across the country. The figure is nearly one-third of Gap’s locations in North America, where it also owns Intermix and Janie and Jack.

While the company has built a robust online operation, its stores remain crucial. It has nearly 2,800 locations in North America, mostly in the United States. The company recently said that it had suspended rent payments for its North American retail stores in April, which comes out to about $115 million per month, and that it had been negotiating lease terms. It also said the pandemic “continues to negatively impact our operations and liquidity.”

In the meantime, Gap’s brands have introduced curbside pickup and product shipment from stores. The company, which furloughed nearly 80,000 store employees in North America as part of the closures, declined to say how many workers had been brought back or how many would return.

Ms. Syngal, who was appointed chief executive of Gap in March, said Texas had made it especially easy for national retailers to reopen.

“Texas has aligned state-level and county-level requirements, and that’s made it easier for retailers to have a more consistent opening plan,” she said. “It’s a state-by-state and county-by-county decision, and large retailers like us have been advocating for more consistency at that level.”

She added: “It really does come down to what governors decide — our whole stance is that we will be ready to reopen as it is safe to do so as dictated by local authorities.”

At the chains operated by the Gap, fitting rooms and restrooms will not be available when stores reopen. Returns will be quarantined for 24 hours. The company will encourage, though not require, customers to wear face coverings while shopping, and monitor the flow of customers in stores while encouraging social distancing.

Ms. Syngal said that the company expected that shoppers would generally wear masks as authorities and businesses encouraged their use, and that it had learned from its 250 locations in Asia, which have reopened.

In a news release on Wednesday, Ms. Syngal emphasized that the company’s priority was the health and safety of its employees and customers.

“Our approach to reopening balances the fact that taking care takes time, with the urgent need to restore the economy and provide the opportunity for our teams to come back to work,” she said.

  • Updated April 11, 2020

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • When will this end?

      This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

    • How can I help?

      The Times Neediest Cases Fund has started a special campaign to help those who have been affected, which accepts donations here. Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities. More than 30,000 coronavirus-related GoFundMe fund-raisers have started in the past few weeks. (The sheer number of fund-raisers means more of them are likely to fail to meet their goal, though.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • How do I get tested?

      If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • Is there a vaccine yet?

      No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Can I go to the park?

      Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.

    • What should I do with my 401(k)?

      Watching your balance go up and down can be scary. You may be wondering if you should decrease your contributions — don’t! If your employer matches any part of your contributions, make sure you’re at least saving as much as you can to get that “free money.”

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