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Mall Executive Backtracks From Statement on Amazon Retail Stores

SEATTLE — A day after saying that Amazon plans to open hundreds of physical bookstores, the chief executive of a large shopping mall operator has backed away from the comments.

In a statement Wednesday from General Growth Properties, the mall operator’s chief executive, Sandeep Mathrani, said a comment he made this week on a conference call referring to the Internet retailer’s “goal” to open 300 to 400 bookstores “was not intended to represent Amazon’s plans.”

His remarks prompted widespread coverage, however, suggesting that the Internet retailer was on the verge of an ambitious expansion into physical retail after opening one bookstore in a Seattle shopping mall last year.

While a reversal of sorts, Mr. Mathrani’s statement on Wednesday was not technically a retraction; he did not say his earlier comment was inaccurate.

In fact, it is true that Amazon intends to open more bookstores, according to a person briefed on the matter who asked for anonymity because the plans are confidential. But Mr. Mathrani dramatically overstated the number, this person said.

It’s unclear how Mr. Mathrani came up with the 300 to 400 figure for Amazon’s store plans. Whether or not self-interest was a factor, the idea that the nation’s most important Internet retailer wants to open a chain of stores could be beneficial to the perception of shopping malls at a time when many of them are struggling. Mr. Mathrani’s Amazon remarks came during a bullish string of comments about Internet retailers investing in physical stores.

Mr. Mathrani’s comments could not have pleased Amazon, which closely guards all of its future plans. The company’s share price fell nearly 4 percent on Wednesday.

Kevin Berry, a spokesman for General Growth Properties, declined to comment on whether Amazon played any role in the company’s decision to back away from the comments. Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, also declined to comment.

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