Central Ohio retailers wrap safety measures around holiday shopping season

Polaris, Easton, Tanger, others find ways to keep sales thriving while maintaining health protocols

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Workers with Zanesville-based Nelson's Seasonal Decor assemble the holiday tree at Easton Town Center, 160 Easton Town Center in northeast Columbus, on Nov. 9. Shopping centers' managers are trying to balance the tradition of attracting holiday shoppers with safety protocols amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

'Tis the season when most retailers would begin planning for Black Friday and the holiday shopping rush, anticipating large crowds in long lines and the doors opening to a dash of eager gift buyers.

But this is 2020 – and, well, we're in a pandemic.

So instead, managers of malls and department stores find themselves trying to balance the books with a successful shopping experience – and a safe one.

Protocols are in place during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic so customers can expect a safe shopping experience at Easton Town Center, Polaris Fashion Place, Tanger Outlets and retailers Cabela’s and Walmart, among others.

Many of the central Ohio businesses are offering extended promotions to replace one-day Black Friday sales to help avoid crowds and maintain distancing.

Shoppers still can look forward to such traditions as visits with Santa Claus at Polaris and Cabela’s, while Easton will feature its very own elf, ElfE.

Polaris' ‘magic of the season'

“With the holiday season approaching, we are expecting a bustling town center,” said Tamra Bower, general manager of Polaris Fashion Place, 1500 Polaris Parkway in north Columbus. “This is a special time for families, and we are glad to still be a holiday shopping staple in central Ohio. Although this year may look a little different, we are looking forward to helping community members experience the magic of the season while keeping the health and safety of our guests, retailers and employees our top priority.”

To that end, Bower said, Polaris is taking additional precautions by increasing the frequency and intensity of already rigorous cleaning and sanitation practices, including periodically disinfecting areas most susceptible to the spread of germs in such areas as public restrooms, rental strollers and wheelchairs, door handles, escalator handrails, food-court tables and other common touchpoints.

A snowflake chandelier has been installed above the center court across from the JCPenney store inside Polaris Fashion Place, 1500 Polaris Parkway in north Columbus.

“We are focused on providing a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone,” Bower said. “We are inspired by the resilience of our community, and we look forward to safely welcoming back our guests throughout the holiday season.”

She said Polaris shops individually are following safety guidelines, including limiting the number of people permitted inside a store at one time.

Polaris also is offering a program called Retail To-Go, a new curbside pickup option, Bower said.

“Shoppers can make purchases directly with participating retailers via phone, online or app, and conveniently pick up their purchases at one of two locations at Polaris Fashion Place,” Bower said.

She said participation might vary by individual retailer. 

Additionally, Bower said, Polaris is partnering with the locally owned CbusShops, which offers remote-shopping opportunities for hundreds of the town center’s diverse options. 

“Customers simply place a 'buy online, pick up in store' order on the retailer’s website and upload their proof of purchase to the CbusShops website (cbusshops.com),” she said.

From there, the CbusShops delivery team picks up the item in the physical store at Polaris and delivers the purchases to the customer the same day.

“Whether through in-person shopping, Retail To-Go or our partnership with CbusShops, our guests are able to shop in the way that best suits their comfort level,” Bower said.

Polaris also is welcoming several new stores this fall, including five locally owned businesses, she said. They include Stems & Stone, offering unusual plant décor with in-store experiences; Good Energy by Seven, a yoga and wellness boutique; Rubyard, a trendy jewelry store; RegiMen, featuring men’s specialty grooming products; and Country Friends of Ohio LLC, offering holiday home décor.

Bower said Polaris would not be open Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26. 

“We are looking forward to welcoming Santa this year,” Bower said. “We want to ensure we offer our guests a chance to enjoy holiday-shopping traditions while taking important safety precautions.”

She said all holiday events are being thoughtfully planned with the best interests of guests’ health and safety in mind and would adhere to the latest local and state guidelines.

“While the holidays may look a little different this year, we are committed to providing safe and entertaining holiday events focused on creating a long-lasting community connection,” Bower said.

Easton ‘enchanted as ever’

Jennifer Peterson, Easton chief executive, said the goal for the holiday shopping season is to maintain safety protocols while still supporting a magical holiday season for guests at Easton Town Center, 160 Easton Town Center in northeast Columbus.

The station building at Easton Town Center is decked in holiday decorations, such as this one shown Nov. 9.

“The safety of our guests and workers remains Easton’s No. 1 priority,” she said. “We maintain rigorous cleaning protocols. Masks or face coverings are required in the Station Building and outside when distancing is not possible, inside all tenant spaces and throughout property at designated times in consideration of those most vulnerable.”

She said Easton would continue to follow the directives of the city, county and state.

“Many stores and restaurants have implemented additional safety protocols, as well,” Peterson said. “We are also supporting our merchants and guests with additional tools this holiday, including providing a platform for queue-less line management, along with an express, same-day delivery solution.”

The number of guests permitted into the station building at one time will be limited throughout the season, according to Peterson.

She said many stores and restaurants also have capacity limits.

“There is signage throughout Easton Town Center’s property regarding the flow of foot traffic,” Peterson said. “Guests will see arrows on the ground and on the staircases to help guide them throughout the property in a safe, physically distant way.”

She said many of Easton’s businesses will offer extended Black Friday promotions versus one-day-only types of incentives.

“It also appears that only a few brands will choose to open their doors on Thanksgiving, as they might have in the past,” Peterson said.

She said Easton’s website and the MyEaston app would be kept up to date throughout the holiday season with store hours and offerings.

Peterson recommends calling stores directly before arrival to confirm all hours. 

Customers may go to eastontowncenter.com or download the MyEaston app to find more information including direct phone numbers for its 250-plus stores.

“The holidays at Easton will be as enchanted as ever, but with appropriate changes and modifications to ensure the safety of all,” Peterson said.

Holiday decorations have been placed throughout the station building at Easton Town Center on Nov. 9.

She said families might report a few surprise “Santa sightings” throughout the season.  

“We will be announcing soon our magical virtual Santa Experience,” Peterson said. “Our guests will be able to enjoy the nearly 2 million lights at Easton, starting Nov. 20, and unexpected pop-up performances, entertainers and buskers will be on-site throughout the season.”

She said guests also might spot Easton’s ElfE walking around the center.

Carriage rides will be available through reservations, as well as family photo sessions by the 50-foot-tall tree complete with nearly 30,000 programmable LEDs and special shows with music running every 15 minutes.

Tanger's November deals of the season

Ensuring shoppers can access great deals and savings in as safe an environment as possible is the focus at Tanger Outlets Columbus, 400 S. Wilson Road in Sunbury, said Carl Landis, general manager of Tanger Outlets Columbus and Tanger Outlets Jeffersonville.

“With many states still in a precarious state with the coronavirus, it is our top priority to limit the spread within our communities and keep customers and employees protected,” he said.

Landis said Tanger has a number of protocols in place across its open-air centers aimed at protecting shoppers and employees. They include limits to the number of shoppers who are in a store at one time, physical-distancing decals inside and outside stores and abundant access to cleanliness products like hand sanitizers. 

“While holiday shopping may look different than previous years, we are dedicated to keeping shoppers safe without negatively impacting the experience they’ve come to expect from Tanger,” Landis said.

The most significant change is when Tanger kicked off the holiday shopping season, he said.

Traditionally, the season would begin with Thanksgiving and Black Friday. 

“Instead, to protect both shoppers and employees, Tanger and its retail partners are offering the best deals of the season throughout the entire month of November,” Landis said. “This way, shoppers will have plenty of time to get all of their gifts for loved ones in a safe and enjoyable manner.”

Tanger’s first round of expanded hours began Nov. 6, with hours of business from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. 

Tanger will be closed on Thanksgiving and reopen Friday, Nov. 27, for what’s being calling Great Tanger Friday. 

After that weekend, hours will be expanded, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23.

Cabela's contactless Santa’s Wonderland

Cabela’s, 1650 Gemini Place in north Columbus, welcomed Santa on Nov. 7 with a parade-style event and will offer visits with Santa by appointment through Dec. 24.

Jeff Butler, customer-service and shipping/receiving manager, said the appointments eliminate lines and can be made online at cabelas.com/santa.

A reimagined, contactless Santa’s Wonderland experience includes reservations to allow appropriate physical distancing and additional cleaning; temperature screening; and a Magic Santa Shield, an innovative, glare-free clear protective barrier that will be in place between Santa and families at all times to allow for a contactless experience, according to a Nov. 5 news release.

Called Santa’s Sanitation Squad, a team of "elves" will clean all surfaces between each visit and frequently ensure all safety measures are being implemented correctly, the news release said. 

Butler said Cabela’s is encouraging customers to use the shopping option with which they're most comfortable.

“We offer curbside pickup if they don’t feel comfortable coming in the store,” he said. “We’re following the guidelines for social distancing.”

Walmart's 'Deals for Days'

Walmart is adapting to meet the evolving needs of its customers with a revamped Black Friday savings event, according to a recent news release. 

Walmart is spreading out its Black Friday savings from one day to “Black Friday Deals for Days.” Each savings event will begin online at walmart.com and continue in Walmart stores.

As a new feature this year, customers will have the option to pick up their online Black Friday order through Walmart’s contact-free curbside-pickup service.

Other retail destinations

Eastland Mall and Simon Property Group, which manages the Mall at Tuttle Crossing near Dublin, didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla