Spokane’s malls began reopening this week with hand-sanitizing stations, disease prevention posters and reduced seating, but with only a fraction of the retailers and without the crowds that might overwhelm safety measures.
Although managers say they’re happy to be welcoming customers again, the economic payoff will largely be seen in the coming weeks as more national retailers reopen local stores.
And the social debate about widespread mask-wearing continued as people wandered back into malls for the first time since March. While all malls are recommending them, only individual retailers are deciding whether to require them inside their stores.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Brielle Gieser held her mother Kelli Gieser’s hand in the Spokane Valley Mall on Tuesday afternoon, with an adult-sized mask cinched behind her head to fit tightly.
They were prepared to leave if too many people without masks were there, Gieser said. But traffic through the mall was sparse, with only about a quarter of stores open. She wanted to come out for a little sense of normalcy.
“I don’t know if she’ll remember this,” Gieser said, referring to the pandemic. “I’m just hoping it doesn’t scar her. I think some kids might start to think people are bad.”
Regina Brown went to the Spokane Valley Mall to get her nails done and support businesses. She said she felt safe shopping without a mask.
“I think we’ve gone a bit overboard on some things,” Brown said. “Not that this isn’t serious.”
NorthTown Mall general manager Grove Ayers said his facility – which reopened Tuesday with 20 retailers and four restaurants – had about 50% of its normal traffic at about 1 p.m. on Tuesday compared to normal for that day and time.
“I think that’s pretty good, considering the circumstances,” said Ayers, noting how high-traffic tenants such as Macy’s, JCPenney, its movie theater and the Blue Zoo aquarium remained closed.
Macy’s won’t reopen in the mall until June 1, according to Ayers. Barnes & Noble, which still has to rearrange its store for physical distancing, is weeks away from reopening, and another national chain plans to stay shuttered until July 1.
“The retailers that are open are getting a decent response,” Ayers said.
Amy Noriega was expecting more open doors at NorthTown Mall, as she strolled with her 3-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter, and mother-in-law Veronica Noriega.
None wore masks. They said they weren’t worried about getting sick.
“If people are really so scared of getting sick, they should act like this for the normal flu,” Amy Noriega said. “It’s just hard to believe things will go back to how they were, but we’re trying to take advantage of it in case things close again.”
Elsewhere at NorthTown Mall, Lynnette Jamme and her two nephews kept their faces covered.
“More people should be wearing masks because this isn’t a joke. It’s a big thing,” said Trevor Knight, a 10-year-old.
Jamme said they’ve started wearing masks more, as she’s seen more elderly people out at stores without face coverings.
River Park Square Mall patron Wendy Smith also felt strongly about wearing masks, as she ventured downtown for sweets from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on her day off.
“Some things are worth the risk,” Smith said with a laugh.
She said because she is at high risk for COVID-19, she believes it’s important to wear a mask to protect herself and others. She added that she has been reducing her exposure by limiting the length of her trips and keeping her distance from others.
“I want to live,” said Smith. “And I have elderly parents that I want to live.”
The minor inconvenience of wearing a mask, Smith said, is worth it to protect others.
“I hate that they fog up my glasses … I hate that it’s another thing to remember,” Smith said. “I don’t want to live in fear, but I’ve got to be cautious.”
Along with Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, about 20% of food and retail tenants were open at River Park Square on Tuesday after a limited reopening on Monday, according to Rita Koefod, the mall’s director of marketing.
“It’s a ramp-up of merchants and restaurants as they feel ready to reopen safely,” Koefod said. And “more are opening by the day,” such as Leland’s Barbershop and Anderson & Co. on Tuesday.
Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar will likely reopen Thursday, Koefod said. Nordstrom is only operating curbside.
River Park Square designated entry and exit doors and has displays to remind people of social distancing guidelines, Koefod said. Clear shields are in place where customers interact with mall staff, and the facility is asking everyone to wear masks.
Some individual retailers, such as Free People, are requiring masks, so Koefod said people should be prepared with masks when they come to shop.
“We are highly recommending them based on the Department of Health guidelines,” Koefod said.
Mark Miller and his teenage son and daughter brought masks to River Park Square for its partial reopening, but only wore them in stores that required masks.
“We got tired of this social isolation feeling,” Miller said about shopping at “anything that’s open” downtown.
Though he believes people should wear masks to protect others, for Miller and his children, wearing masks had more to do with social obligation than a sense of risk.
NorthTown Mall also is recommending shoppers wear masks, and security staff have been trained to educate people not wearing masks and to offer them supplies, Ayers said.
“We’re asking people to be good citizens and be good neighbors,” he added.
To prepare NorthTown Mall, Ayers said crews intensively cleaned, replaced air filters and flushed fresh air into the mall using a smoke evacuation system. A large portion of seating in the mall and food court was also removed.
Before the mall opened Tuesday morning, he said mall staff walked around to retailers with gift bags of gloves, masks and store-specific guidelines from the state health department.
Ayers said he anticipates shopping will increase around Father’s Day on June 21 as people buy last-minute gifts. Nearly all retailers should be open by then.
“It’ll be a good reintroduction for a lot of people,” he said.
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