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Malls Will Be Different When They Reopen — If They Reopen At All

Malls in about a dozen states began reopening late last week, attracting shoppers to an environment vastly changed over the last six weeks.

Northgate Mall in Durham, N.C., which will be closing permanently.

Now, shoppers are encountering signs warning them to maintain social distancing, stickers and tape on the floor advising them where to stand or walk, and limits on how many shoppers can go into individual shops at any given moment, the Washington Post reports.

Crowding might not be an issue for a while in any case, as low shopper turnout characterized the early reopening days. 

At a mall restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, a sign read, "No Mask, No Service!" according to the Post, noting that common areas, such as food courts and children's play places, are still closed to the public.

As of Friday, about half of the states are open in one way or another, including a handful that didn't close at all, the New York Times reports. Even those states reopening tend to have some restrictions, however, on retail including barbershops or beauty salons. 

Also, in some cases, states have moved further to reopen than some localities. In Florida, most businesses in the state can open, but the most populous counties in South Florida are allowed to set their own schedules, and haven't reopened yet.

In Indiana, Simon Property Group reopened five malls under new protocols, which include reduced operating hours and visible reminders of the pandemic. The malls now feature signs that direct foot traffic to maximize distance, and mall workers are giving away masks and sanitizer to customers (mall employees are required to wear masks, while customers are not), Fox 59 reports.

Other changes in retail are happening behind the scenes. Besides installing plastic shields at checkout and requiring staff to wear masks, department store giant Macy's is also doing mandatory wellness checks for its employees, the Miami Herald reports.

Some anchors are remaining closed, even in places where they can open, with each big chain taking a different approach. Nordstrom and the Gap remain shut, for example, signaling uncertainty among top retailers, CNN reports.

Some malls have closed permanently. The owners of Northgate Mall in Durham, North Carolina, said on Monday that the property will fold, citing the pandemic. Others may follow as a weak economy takes its toll on retail sales.

Tenants operating outside of Northgate but still on mall property will reopen eventually, Jonathan Stewart, head of leasing for the mall, told the News & Observer, a North Carolina publication. That includes Northgate Stadium 10, a movie theater shuttered by the pandemic.