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The former Sears Auto Center at Hanes Mall transformed into a COVID testing by Novant Health
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The former Sears Auto Center at Hanes Mall transformed into a COVID testing by Novant Health

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Novant Health has launched the first medical use for the Sears properties at Hanes Mall that it bought in October 2018.

The not-for-profit system has consolidated its Triad COVID-19 testing centers into the former Sears Auto Center outparcel.

The center at 190 Hanes Mall Circle is conducting testing for COVID-19 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, but not on the weekend. Screenings will be available without a referral or appointment.

The East Winston screening center on Highland Avenue will remain open.

Novant said it chose the former Sears Auto Center site because it is accessible by public transportation, it can accommodate more patients and it offers extended hours of service. Spanish interpreters will be available.

Since opening Triad screening centers in March, Novant said it has served more than 75,000 people. The majority of those receiving care at these locations are traveling from outside the ZIP code where the screening centers are located.

The real-estate arm of Novant bought the Sears Auto Center and the mall department store building for $14.5 million in October 2018.

The purchase included the 175,000-square-foot store, the outparcel automotive store and the parking lots to the north and east of the mall stores — altogether 16.72 acres.

Until announcing the COVID-19 screening site, Novant had been silent about its plans for the Sears space except for placing signage at the indoor entrances.

"We don’t have any updates to share beyond what we announced for the screening assessment center," Novant spokeswoman Samantha Williams said.

It's unclear whether the screening site will translate into additional foot traffic inside the mall, which has experienced COVID-19-related store and restaurant closings and shutdowns since mid-March.

Mall officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the Novant screening site.

“The true benefit to the mall from Novant using the former Sears outparcel as a test site will likely be based more on a long-term image enhancement and appeal than a short-term boost in shopper traffic,” said Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at the Wake Forest University School of Business.

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“If the mall can be seen as providing community goodwill and services through its non-retail tenants, then that can translate to a positive image enhancement toward the mall in general. That, in turn, can result in increased traffic long term for its tenants.

“Let's face it, given the slow recovery we're seeing from the pandemic, retailers are having to take a longer-term perspective today anyway,” Beahm said.

Dave & Buster's Entertainment Inc. filed a WARN Act notice Sept. 8 with the N.C. Commerce Department for its location at Hanes Mall that was closed March 16.

The notice disclosed that 79 employees who had been listed as furloughed would be laid off, effective Nov. 8. Employees at restaurants in Cary and Pineville were affected similarly.

Brian Jenkins, the chain's chief executive, told analysts Sept. 9 that it plans to reopen those three N.C. locations by the end of the year.

However, those plans appear dependent on when the state's COVID-19 pandemic reopening advances to Phase Three, particularly as it applies to video arcades.

On Sept. 1, Gov. Roy Cooper approved a relaxing of social-distancing and business restrictions in what is known as Phase 2.5. That went into effect Sept. 4. Restaurants are allowed to operate at 50% indoor capacity.

Executive Order No. 163, however, did not ease restrictions for businesses that provide amusement and gaming activities.

Meanwhile, Truliant Federal Credit Union is converting the former Macy's department store location at the mall.

Truliant spent $8 million to buy the 154,000-square-foot Macy’s store on June 19, according to a Forsyth County Register of Deeds filing. The overall property consists of about 10 acres and 712 parking spaces.

“We chose to invest in this space as a way to more quickly and economically address our expansion needs,” said Todd Hall, Truliant’s president and chief executive.

Truliant estimates more than 550 employees could be based in the mall, compared with 425 employees on its headquarters campus.

Victoria Lim, a market analyst at CoStar Group, a commercial real-estate research company headquartered in Washington, sees the securing of a health-care and a financial institution as anchors as a blessing for Hanes Mall.

“With brick-and-mortar retail facing a lot of challenges, we’re seeing more innovative projects like these pop up to back-fill large blocks of retail space,” Lim said. “This is especially the case in suburban areas, where creative office space is more difficult to come by than in more urban settings.

“The conversion of Sears and Macy’s to offices in Hanes Mall is just another example of adaptive reuse we’re already seeing in other markets across the country,” Lim said.

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