At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, Inc. (Shopping Centers) was proactive in preserving families and businesses, providing essential supplies and rent relief. Through public and private community partnerships, they were able to help hundreds of families and dozens of tenants during a difficult time.
Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, Inc. supplied protective equipment and rent relief during the pandemic
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the Navajo Nation experienced frightening rates of infection, including 2,304 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people at its peak. Across the entire country, panic consumption disrupted supply chains making it difficult to get essential supplies.
Moreover, the shortages unfairly impact Navajo families residing in remote communities and put elderly populations at greater risk.
According to the Chief Executive Officer, Nicholas Taylor, the Shopping Centers management team and board members felt obligated to help maintain the safety of shoppers and the perseverance of business.
“At the outset, our goal was to be there for the Navajo people,” he said. “We recognized that we lacked essential items people needed for safety such as masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant. We moved quickly to procure those items and distribute them to the people.”
“Our second goal was to make sure that we had the framework in place to support our Navajo businesses,” he added. “We wanted to make sure that none of our tenants experienced permanent closures due to the temporary restrictions by orders from the Navajo Department of Health.”
Safety Shopping Kits & Sanitizer Refill Stations
According to Taylor, the safety and wellbeing of Shopping Centers patrons is their top priority. The management team worked with various partners to provide free masks, hand sanitizers, and bottle refills to help stop the virus from spreading.
The kits contained latex gloves, face masks, small hand sanitizer bottles, and information cards with safe shopping tips. “We had a weekly schedule where we rotated among the ten shopping centers,” Taylor said. “Within a given week, we could distribute about 500 to 800 shopping kits.”
News of the ‘Safe Shopping Kits’ spread rapidly through social media and word-of-mouth. Taylor said the people were pleasantly surprised and thankful for the supplies and sanitizer refills.
“Initially, people were wondering what we were doing, what we were distributing,” he said. “They were surprised that a Navajo enterprise was providing these items for people. They were always grateful that they were getting hand sanitizer and masks because they couldn’t find any in the remote regions.”
Navajo Business & Tenant Relief Program
With the Navajo Nation’s restrictions on non-essential businesses, many tenants had to limit their hours or close temporarily. Shopping Centers was concerned about their ability to continue making rent payments and wanted to avoid permanent closures throughout the pandemic.
Taylor approved a rent relief program for a selected number of tenants that were experiencing hardship.
“We contacted the ones we felt were in dire-straits and worked with them one-on-one,” according to Taylor. “We targeted the smaller businesses, mom and pop shops, the movie theaters, and movie rental places.”
“At the height of the pandemic, we were assisting about 30 businesses through our rent relief program. Right now, we’re down to about six businesses that we are continuing to assist.”
Partnerships for Growth Development
Shopping Centers is proud of their contribution and the partnerships that helped make it happen. According to Board Member Tony Skrelunas, the goal is to partner with chapter communities, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit entities to bring more opportunities to the Navajo Nation.
He believes Shopping Centers can attract shopping, housing, recreation, and hospitality to the nation given the proper support.
Skrelunas said their properties are the modern-day trading post, a safe hub for community and commerce. He describes the vision for Shopping Centers as “bringing back the cultural ties” in business that have diminished.
“A long time ago, people used to go to the trading post. Families, people on horseback, some with wagons, grandmas were bringing their rugs, and some pawning jewelry.,” he explained. “It was a real community and family affair. Neighbors would talk about like next ceremony, the next wedding. I know there was sometimes a watering area next to the trading post where the horses could relax.”
He said, their vision is to “create the kinds of places where families can come shop, be safe, and have fun.”
About Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, Inc.
Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, Inc. is a self-operational tribal enterprise with a management portfolio of ten (10) shopping center properties. The mission is to develop, retain, and expand profitable retail operations by maintaining excellent customer service, building strong community relations, and pursuing new market potentials for the Navajo Nation. For more information, visit https://www.nnscinc.com/.