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Pandemic puts pause on new REI store as retailers in Billings wonder what's next

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Posted at 6:49 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 16:09:38-04

Outdoor retailer REI is putting the brakes on its new Billings store off Shiloh Road as retailers in the area wonder how the coronavirus pandemic will play out.

Developer Steve Corning, president of Corning Companies in Billings, said Thursday that no one knows, and none have escaped unscathed.

"I've never seen a broader impact than we're seeing right now where literally everybody is affected," said Corning. "Before some of these major downturns were a little more concentrated in a particular sector, housing or mortgages or something like that. But this is across the board, it's unprecedented."

REI is one of Corning's clients, and he said the Washington-based retailer is postponing its spring opening and hiring at its new store at the corner of King Avenue West and Shiloh Road.

"We're the developer of that building for them, and we've had to obviously compromise on beginning of rent, and start date," Corning said. "But that's the world right now, we're making a lot of accommodations, and they are to us."

It's part of a new "co-operative spirit" Corning sees in the business world.

"If we meet people halfway, we're generally met halfway in return," said Corning.

This week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock extended his stay-at-home order closing nonessential businesses to curb the spread of COVID-19 to April 24.

Among the hardest hit in the current downturn are movie theaters, which are considered nonessential in the order.

AMC Theatres are one of Corning's tenants at the Shiloh Crossing development in west Billings. He spoke with officials at the company's home office on Thursday.

"Their concern is how soon will people come back to the movies," said Corning. "Will people react very quickly, and say, gosh we're so tired of being home, that we need to go to the movies, get out and go to restaurants. Or are people going to be cautious? I don't think people know."

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, the concern builds as to how quickly things can get back to normal. How long will the social distancing and shelter in place orders remain? In Corning's words, the longer this continues - the more arduous the comeback will be.

To put things in a different perspective, Corning offered this observation.

"In Montana right now, we're at about 300 unemployed people to every one coronavirus case that we have. You talk about having an impact, that is really an impact," said Corning.