One chicken kebab gyro, please – hold the panic over coronavirus.
That was Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s order Thursday as he and his staff visited North Star Mall following City Council’s Thursday meeting to visit with mall staff and have lunch with mall management.
The visit came after an evacuee from Wuhan, China was released from quarantine Saturday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The woman spent several hours at the shopping mall before pending results from a coronavirus test came back “weakly positive.”
“It’s a great place to have a meal,” Nirenberg said, adding he wanted “to make a point that life continues to go on and businesses are open.”
“The community is functioning normally given the circumstances,” Nirenberg said. “Management said [business] has been picking up [since Monday when the mall closed for a deep cleaning]. The parking lot wasn’t totally full, but it’s only 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday.”
North Star Mall closed late Monday morning and reopened at 10 a.m. Tuesday so employees could perform a “deep clean” after the evacuee visited the shopping center.
Mall officials said the deep clean was performed out of “an abundance of caution,” and to minimize fear and anxiety over the potential for community spread. City officials released a timeline stating that the woman arrived at North Star Mall at 5:30 p.m, where she visited Dillard’s, Talbot’s, and Swarovski before ordering Chinese food at the food court and returning to her hotel at 7:30 p.m.
“Nearly every restaurant at the food court was represented at the table,” including Nirenberg’s order from Opah Greek Flavor, Chinese food from China Gourmet, Chick-fil-A, and Philly cheesesteaks from Charley’s, he said.
While Nirenberg was optimistic about the Thursday traffic, mall employees said this week has been considerably slow.
Arguably one of the busiest stores in North Star Mall, the Apple Store had around two dozen customers. A store employee said that considering there are only two store locations in San Antonio, it’s “been empty” since Monday.
“Today was just dead,” she said. “To us, this is slow. People come in here and still think this is a lot [of customers], and there may be a small crowd, but all things considered, there is no one here.”
While foot traffic throughout North Star Mall was consistent, with customers on every available walking path, some stores had no customers at all. And for the most part, the food court was largely vacant.
Swarovski, one of the stores visited by the released Wuhan, China evacuee, had no customers Thursday afternoon.
A Swarovski employee said that while it has been slow since news of the evacuee visit hit, “it’s also after the holidays,” so fewer customers are visiting in general. But the store did close early recently “because there were no customers,” she said.
Foot Locker employees also blamed the lack of customers this week on the fact that most people have not received their income tax refunds at this point in the year.
“This is still the beginning of tax season, which could play a role,” an employee said. “Also, people usually come more on weekends.”
An employee at a popular makeup store was more candid, saying, “this is incredibly dead, even for a Thursday, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Most mall patrons appeared either out of the loop or unconcerned about coronavirus Thursday.
An older couple said they were tourists visiting San Antonio for the week and had heard nothing of coronavirus in San Antonio or anywhere else.
“I think I heard about it,” said Adan Gonzales, who was carrying a J.C. Penney bag. “But this was my only day to come.”
While the out-of-office staff lunch was intended to make a point that it’s safe to visit the shopping center, the mall is also a 60-year-old San Antonio landmark that has been recently upgraded, making it even more inviting, Nirenberg said.
“We put the boots [sculpture outside of the mall] on a historic map because they are important. The boots themselves represent business,” Nirenberg said. “We did want to have a nice lunch out, but I also want to make it clear that San Antonio is open for business.”