Shopping malls could reopen soon. Here are the changes you can expect.
When shoppers return to their local Simon mall or outlet, they'll likely find food courts with less seating, directional signs and dividers to control the flow of foot traffic, and free temperature testing via infrared thermometers.
The safety protocols are outlined in a comprehensive guide that Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the nation's largest owner and operator of shopping malls, published on its website after the document leaked to media outlets Tuesday.
The document offers the first look at how retailers and malls could operate in the era of the novel coronavirus. States are beginning to reboot their economies after shuttering nonessential businesses and implementing shelter-in-place orders.
But it remains to be seen whether mall retailers will reopen as well.
How soon could mall stores return?
Initially, Simon plans to reopen 49 properties in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana and Missouri. The reopenings are slated to take place from Friday and Monday. In Indiana, Simon's 10 properties could reopen on Saturday.
Simon closed all of its properties last month as states grappled with coronavirus outbreaks.
If properties open this weekend, it's unclear how many stores customers could visit.
For example, Indiana-based Vera Bradley said it was not reopening its store at the Fashion Mall at Keystone in Indianapolis if the shopping mall opens on Saturday. But the company is assessing all retail locations to determine what’s best for each store.
Ongoing discussions about the reopening of businesses in several states do not mean that Vera Bradley will reopen its stores right away, said Holly Ryan, a spokeswoman for the company.
"As in all decisions, we try to weigh what is best for the physical and financial health of our associates and financial well-being of our Company," Ryan said.
To Vera Bradley, this means assessing the local status of the pandemic, seeking guidance from government officials and talking to mall owners and other retailers.
The company also plans to measure community sentiment, evaluate its own operational readiness to reopen, estimate the financial impact and talk to its associates about returning to work, she added.
The Gap Inc., the parent company of Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic, said it has no plans to open any of its U.S. stores this weekend.
When asked whether it planned to reopen stores at Simon properties in Indiana on Saturday, a spokesperson for Macy's Inc. said the company looks forward to reopening its department stores, but did not say when that would occur.
"As we plan to reopen, we are looking at a number of factors including state and local government ordinances," the spokesperson said. "We anticipate that not all stores will reopen at once, with openings staggered based on geographic recoveries."
On Thursday, Macy's said it would reopen some stores next week in states where coronavirus restrictions have been eased.
Safety protocols for shoppers and workers
While Simon's plans are subject to change, the company's memo, signed by malls president and chief administrative officer John Rulli, says it plans to reopen as quickly and as safely as possible when allowed.
The reopening memo includes a page of key COVID-19 guidelines for tenants, a 10-page document of exposure-mitigation protocols and a separate 47-page document with examples of signs for shoppers and employees.
The company said its protocols have been reviewed and approved by epidemiological and environmental health and safety experts.
Other protocols include limiting store hours to allow for the overnight cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting of high touchpoint areas. Business hours will be limited to 11 a.m to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Areas targeted for cleaning include restrooms, seating areas, escalator and stair handrails, trash bins, doorknobs and handles, directories, food court tables and chairs. Retail tenants are encouraged to appropriately clean their spaces.
All shoppers will be encouraged to wear masks or facial coverings and frequently wash and sanitize their hands. Simon also said it plans to make sanitizing stations available to shoppers. Free masks would be available upon request.
When paying with a credit or debit card, customers should use credit card machines without handing the card to a store employee, according to Simon protocols. Employees and customers should maintain at least 6 feet of separation during each transaction or be separated by a clear barrier.
Employees also should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer after each transaction. Retail tenants also should provide masks, facial coverings and sanitizing products to their employees.
Children's play areas will be temporarily closed. In bathrooms, every other urinal and sink will be taped off to encourage social distancing.
No reusable trays, utensils or cups will be allowed in food courts. Regular public announcements will be made to remind shoppers to maintain a safe distance from each other.
As for Simon's employees, contractors and vendors, they'll be required to screen themselves at home before going to work. Anyone with a temperature exceeding 100.4 degrees or exhibiting flulike symptoms will be required to stay home.
Employees exposed to COVID-19 will be required to quarantine at home until they are symptom free for at 72 hours and satisfy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements prior to returning to work.
When does Simon plan to reopen stores?
Friday, May 1
- Anchorage 5th Ave
- Calhoun Outlet Marketplace
- Lenox Square
- Mall of Georgia/Village Shops
- North Georgia Premium Outlets
- Phipps Plaza
- Sugarloaf Mills
- Town Center at Cobb
- Gulfport Premium Outlets
- Penn Square Mall
- Woodland Hills Mall
- Gaffney Outlet Marketplace
- West Town Mall
- Allen Premium Outlets
- Barton Creek
- Broadway Square
- Cielo Vista
- Firewheel Town Center
- Grande Prairie Premium Outlets
- Grapevine Mills
- Houston Galleria
- Houston Premium Outlets
- Ingram Park Mall
- Katy Mills
- La Plaza Mall
- Lakeline Mall
- Midland Park Mall
- North East Mall
- Rio Grande Valley PO
- Round Rock Premium Outlets
- San Marcos Premium Outlets
- Shops at Clearfork
- The Domain
- University Park Village
Saturday, May 2
- Castleton Square
- Circle Centre Mall
- College Mall
- Fashion Mall at Keystone
- Greenwood Park Mall
- Hamilton Town Center
- Indiana Premium Outlets
- Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets
- Tippecanoe Mall
- University Park Mall
Monday, May 4
- Battlefield Mall
- St. Louis Premium Outlets
- Osage Outlet Marketplace