Hundreds of shoppers stream into SouthPark mall on first morning of ‘new normal’

Hundreds of shoppers stream into SouthPark mall on first morning of ‘new normal’
Hundreds of shoppers stream into SouthPark mall on first morning of ‘new normal’(Charlotte Observer)
Updated: May. 9, 2020 at 4:39 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - SouthPark mall had numerous can’t-miss health and safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as it welcomed hundreds of shoppers Saturday for the first time since March.

They’d been cooped up in their homes since statewide stay-at-home orders closed retailers and countless other businesses in a government attempt to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were not surprised, as the phone was ringing off the hook all week,” mall general manager Randy Thomas told The Charlotte Observer of the 11 a.m. turnout. “Folks are excited to get back out, get back to normal — the ‘new normal,’” he said.

Simon Property Group, which owns the SouthPark and Concord Mills malls and Charlotte Premium Outlets, closed its malls and outlets nationwide on March 18, the Observer previously reported. Simon is the largest U.S. mall owner.

All three Charlotte-area sites reopened Saturday under North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s first of three phases reopening the state. Phase 1 began at 5 p.m. Friday.

Shoppers Saturday couldn’t help but notice the measures Simon Property Group put into its properties.

Outside the SouthPark mall entrances, red tape marks 6 square feet of social distancing space between each shopper waiting for the mall to open.

Prominent signs inside and outside the mall detail “what we’re doing to keep you safe.”

Mall workers must wear masks and get daily temperature readings, for instance.

Workers placed hand sanitizer stations throughout the mall, and one-way directional floor signs were intended to keep shoppers spaced apart.

Other signs encourage shoppers to wear masks or facial coverings and to frequently wash or sanitize their hands.

Customers can get a mask, sanitizer wipes and temperature readings for free at the mall office, Thomas said. Many shoppers had masks on Saturday, while others did not.

Dining areas have no chairs, and tape covers every other sink in the restrooms to maintain social distancing. Drinking fountains, family restrooms and play areas remain closed, and padded couches are prominently marked “no sitting.”

To allow for more cleaning, Thomas said, the mall has temporarily reduced its hours to 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon-6 p.m. Sundays.

As local news outlets toured the mall an hour before opening, workers wearing masks and gloves continued to spray and wipe padded chairs and fixtures.

All tenants in Simon’s malls “are expected to adhere to the same rigorous policies in their tenant spaces,” according to a Simon Property Group news release Saturday.

Simon officials said they developed the measures with leading experts in the fields of epidemiology and environmental health and safety.

Thomas said what shoppers will see in the mall goes beyond the measures required of “essential” businesses that were allowed to stay open during the state and county stay-at-home orders.

About 40 of the mall’s 140 stores, kiosks and carts opened Saturday, including Louis Vuitton, Pandora, Fink’s Jewelers, Captivate, Miami, Arhaus, Altar’d State and Athleta. Pottery Barn is scheduled to open Monday by appointment only.

Thomas said multiple stores will reopen each day over the next month. Some, including hair and nail salons, are still barred from opening until further phases of Cooper’s reopening plan, Thomas said.

His message to all Charlotte-area shoppers Saturday: “We’re open, and we’ve taken a lot of steps to ensure safety.”

OTHER CHARLOTTE AREA MALLS

Carolina Place Mall in Pineville will reopen Tuesday, also with new safety measures, the Observer previously reported.

Northlake Mall in north Charlotte will reopen at 11 a.m. May 18.

Belk plans to reopen its North Carolina stores Monday.

All of the malls were closed in mid-March, other than essential retail and restaurant take-out because of the COVID-19 crisis.

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