New rules at reopened malls will require shoppers to adapt

Samantha Raudins
sraudins@dispatch.com
Assistant manager Rajina Eskridge gives a Sephora customer guidelines before entering the Polaris Fashion Place store June 26.

Shoppers should bring extra supplies and a bit of patience to malls and shopping centers during the summer season.

At such central Ohio shopping centers as Tanger Outlets, Easton Town Center and Polaris Fashion Place, changes prompted by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have included limits on store capacities, modified store hours and mask requirements or recommendations.

Despite the adjustments, most stores had reopened by the end of last month.

Jennifer Peterson, chief executive at Easton, said the shopping center phased its reopening and, as of late June, was operating at about 75% of the normal foot traffic.

“Once the governor started to give dates where retail and then restaurants could safely reopen, our focus became really how ... would that feel for customers to be at Easton and how would we make them feel as safe as we possibly could,” Peterson said.

Although most stores have opened, shoppers should check to be sure they have in-person shopping.

At Easton, 130 retailers and services and 30 restaurants were open in late June, and 16 tenants remained closed. Others were offering modified hours or curbside-pickup services.

At Tanger Outlets, some stores still were closed in late June, according to the center’s website, while others offered only curbside pickup.

At Polaris, a handful of stores had yet to reopen.

In addition to checking individual stores, customers should check business hours, which have been shortened.

Shoppers planning to hit the stores also should bring a mask because of the increasing number of communities ordering them to be worn in public. Some stores already had required masks to enter – for example, clothing store Torrid at Tanger Outlets hung a sign that said “No mask, no service” – and some were providing masks, such as Sephora at Polaris.

According to Easton’s website, during June, facial coverings were being required from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays to protect vulnerable populations.

By July 2, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther had announced an order for wearing masks in public throughout the city.

Audrey Leopold of Columbus said she shopped at Easton in early June and noticed that many patrons skipped the masks.

“When I first went shopping there, I wore my mask,” Leopold said. “Most people didn’t really wear them outside, but they still kept their distance.

“Inside the buildings and the stores, masks were required for most of them – at least the ones that I went into – and pretty much everyone was wearing a mask.”

To limit the number of shoppers inside a store, some stores ask customers to wait outside, while others have a greeter at the door.

According to Easton’s website, retailers were restricting their occupancy to 50% of their maximum fire-code limit.

Apple was taking precautions a step further by taking the temperatures – without physical contact – of customers before they were allowed to enter. If the maximum number of shoppers were in a store, those wanting to enter at all three shopping centers were placed in a socially distanced queue.

Aside from controlling customer traffic into stores, some businesses have been guiding shoppers through their layouts, with one-way directions taped onto the floor and at entrance and exit doors.

Some stores, such as Paper Source at Easton, were doing only cashless checkouts.

Meanwhile, food-court dining areas were open at Polaris and Tanger Outlets, with limited and socially distanced seating. Many Easton restaurants were open for dine-in, patio and carryout services.

Leopold said she is used to the new precautions because she works in a grocery store and both of her parents are first responders.

“It just kind of feels like the new normal, I guess,” she said. “Most people here seem to be taking it pretty seriously.”

sraudins@dispatch.com

@sam_raudins