All around there were reminders of time lost. At Macy’s, clusters of long, flowing prom dresses in every size and color were marked half-off. In the window of a Build-a-Bear Workshop sat stuffed rabbits and bears in springtime pastels.
North Star Mall and the Shops at La Cantera opened their doors and some of their stores to shoppers on Tuesday for the first time since closing in mid-March to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
But patronage was low as the massive parking lots and garages at both upscale malls had many front-row spaces available at nearly every entrance and few shoppers moving about.
Signs posted to the doors and floors reminded people to observe social distancing while other signs indicated the stores were temporarily closed. A few stores that were open had workers posted by entrances to count shoppers as they entered and ensure their capacity did not exceed the 25 percent mandated by Gov. Greg Abbott.
The governor’s order permitted all Texas malls and retail stores to open May 1 as long as the number of shoppers does not exceed the stated capacity. On Tuesday afternoon, neither mall nor any of the large department stores came even close.
Ernesto Tello, a Macy’s sales associate at La Cantera, said they were not minding the doors because 25 percent capacity of the two-level store would be about 700 people. Less than a dozen appeared to be milling about on the main level by noon on Tuesday, the second day Macy’s was reopened.
“It’s a little more people than yesterday,” said Tello, who had worked in the shoe department and had sales of about $300 during the seven hours it was open. Shoes, cosmetics, and some clothing were the main draws with most customers, he said.
Ashley Ozuna and Jose Melguna were shopping at La Cantera with her daughters, ages 3 and 6, before driving back to their home in Iowa. Both had worked at the Seaboard Foods pork processing plant before it closed, and they were laid off.
“Where we’re at, they don’t really have a mall,” Ozuna said. “It’s very small and then they closed everything down now. We thought why not try to at least get a couple of things before going back.”
But they had only found shoes for the kids. “We just want to leave to go back home because it’s not as good as we thought it would be,” she said.
Chase Still also ventured to the mall for shoes, and she and a friend purchased matching pairs of all-white sneakers at Journeys. “This is like our first time actually being ‘out’ out,” Still said, adding that she misses her job at the salon, Amazing Lash, since being furloughed.
Both women wore face coverings as did many other shoppers at the outdoor mall, though the 90-degree weather made it uncomfortable. Some shoppers were spotted carrying a mask in one hand, bags in the other. A sign on the door at Hollister gave instructions on wearing a face-covering rather than the latest fashions.
At the mall’s sports bar and restaurant, Yard House, diners sat at a half-dozen tables inside, spaced far apart, and another couple ate on the patio. The screens were still tuned to ESPN and SportsCenter, but also a music video of Eric Clapton playing Layla – “What’ll you do when you get lonely …?”
Yard House Manager Travis Downing said diners are asked to wear a mask while moving about the restaurant, bar chairs are spaced six feet apart, and workers were cleaning surfaces and tossing the disposable menus.
When restaurants were allowed to open their dining rooms starting May 1, Yard House parent company Darden brought back about 40 percent of its staff, Downing said, after furloughing almost all of their restaurant crews about three weeks ago.
While dine-in restaurants at North Star Mall were also open, only four of the dozen or so food court counters were serving food and drinks. But customers were forced to take their orders to go. A sea of chair legs sprouted from tabletops across the cordoned-off seating area to keep shoppers out.
Every door at the massive Dillard’s store anchoring the east end of North Star Mall was open on Tuesday and Store Manager Sherrie Perry monitored one in the menswear section. The four-level store had capacity for 2,500, meaning only 625 could be admitted, she said. At Perry’s assigned door, a notepad with tick marks showed less than a dozen had entered or departed by about 1:30 p.m.
“We’re not close to that capacity,” said Wyatt McVey, assistant store manager at Dillard’s. He said there were about 30 employees in the store with some monitoring doors and offering a free mask to shoppers not wearing one.
At Dillard’s, again cosmetics and shoes appeared to be the biggest sellers, he said. With Mother’s Day approaching, perfume sets were the featured item in the cosmetics department and business was constant, at least for one associate working a register where a table blocked space between her and the customers.
“The way that we service customers – all of this is new and different … the procedures are new,” McVey said. “But the numbers, we’ve seen up and we’ve seen down.”
North Star stores such as the athletic footwear outlet Finish Line had a steady flow of customers, with capacity enforced by a masked associate at the door and a partially closed gate.
A couple who spoke with the Rivard Report as they were entering North Star to shop for shoes – “too hard to buy online” – and had just eaten lunch at Applebee’s, hoping to get a break from “cabin fever.”