Vancouver Mall reopened its doors to shoppers Wednesday, making a long-awaited — if somewhat subdued — return after a nearly three-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mall had been closed since March 19, shortly before Gov. Jay Inslee implemented a stay-at-home order that closed all nonessential businesses. Clark County received approval last week to move to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which allows limited in-person retail and dining operations to resume.
Wednesday’s 11 a.m. opening wasn’t met with huge crowds waiting to get in, and the promenade appeared fairly sparse during the initial opening hour. Still, a steady stream of people continued to make their way inside, and larger crowds could be seen forming at some retailers — particularly service retailers like Image Beauty Salon.
“Nails and hair right now are big,” said mall marketing director Bree Sanchez.
Some of Wednesday’s customers could be seen making their way straight to specific stores, but others were taking their time as they strolled through the promenade, enjoying a change of pace after months of staying at home.
“This is kind of the first outing, other than grocery shopping,” said Vancouver resident Kim Latta.
Another visitor, Musika Farnsworth, said she hadn’t come looking to shop for anything in particular, but was instead seeking a feeling of normalcy.
“It’s nice just to get out and walk around,” she said.
Individual mall retailers can set their own reopening timetables, and a significant number of stores remained closed as shoppers began to make their way inside on Wednesday morning — although many of them had signs on the door indicating that they would open later in the week, or next week.
Some mall stores had previously begun offering “Retail To Go” curbside pickup service, and Sanchez said several of them plan to continue doing that for the time being to serve customers who aren’t comfortable entering the mall.
A few of the bigger attractions will have to wait a bit longer. The AMC theater remains closed because movie theaters aren’t allowed to open until Phase 3, and Sanchez said the glow golf and laser-tag game areas are still developing plans for how to maintain social distancing during operations.
Returning shoppers can expect to encounter a number of new social distancing and sanitation protocols, including one-way traffic at the entrances and exits, hand sanitizing stations throughout the mall and “ambassador” tables offering masks and portable hand sanitizer containers (masks are encouraged for mall visitors, but not required).
Individual stores — and the mall itself — are limited to 30 percent of regular maximum occupancy, and many stores have added tape on the floor outside their entrances to guide customers into waiting queues if a store gets too full. There are new Plexiglas dividers and other safety measures inside many of the stores.
Big events are also going to be on hold for the time being. The first casualty was the Easter Bunny greeting event back in April, although the mall was able to hold an outdoor drive-up photo line instead.
The mall will operate on a reduced schedule for the first 30 days to allow more time for cleaning, Sanchez said, and the schedule will be re-evaluated based on visitor traffic numbers during that initial month. The occupancy restrictions could be loosened if Clark County gets permission to move to Phase 3. A minimum of three weeks is required between phases.
“This is a very fluid situation, especially for retail,” she said.
Even if the opening hours are extended, the safety measures are likely going to stick around for a long time, she said — possibly even through the holiday season and into next year. More measures are on the way: in July, the mall will install ultraviolet sterilization units on all of its escalators to sanitize the handrail belts as they pass through.