malls reopen

Plaza Las Américas, along with other malls in Puerto Rico, have reopened with new safety protocols in place. >Brandon Cruz González

Now that the Puerto Rico government has eased lockdown restrictions on businesses, a number of malls on the island began welcoming thousands of customers earlier this week.

On the positive side, malls have reopened. On the questionable side, the future of retail therapy may never be the same.

Growing up in Oregon, malls were the place to hang out, watch a movie, grab a bite to eat and even go ice skating. Malls, including those in Puerto Rico, have become an important social and entertainment venue for many people. Before the coronavirus crisis, many seniors would go to local malls to walk, socialize and exercise. Stores, restaurants and movie theaters were still the norm, but in recent years, malls have also become venues for musical performances, car shows and art exhibits.

All that has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is unclear if malls can return to the pre-coronavirus age “normal.”

Still, the good news for many is that malls have reopened and the economy is moving again, after the strict lockdown rules imposed by the Puerto Rico government in mid-March.

This week, a number of malls have reopened, such as Plaza Las Américas, the Mall of San Juan, San Patricio Plaza, the Outlet 66 Mall in Canóvanas, Plaza Del Caribe in Ponce, and Mayagüez Mall in the west.

Pursuant to an Executive Order by the governor, all shopping centers must ensure that the maximum number of customers for the entire mall does not exceed 25 percent of the capacity established in the 2018 Puerto Rico Building Code.

In the case of San Patricio Plaza, it will allow a maximum occupancy of 4,117 customers and, unlike other malls—such as San Juan’s Plaza Las Américas and Ponce’s Plaza del Caribe—it will not require reservations.

Safety Measures in Place

Customers must wear face masks at all malls and their temperatures are scanned before entering. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is not permitted in the premises. Social distancing rules will be followed inside the shopping centers. The Mall of San Juan said that it will use labels to ensure social distancing precautions, as well as designated sanitation stops.

In some malls, the use of water fountains are banned, while many seating areas have been removed. The Mall of San Juan said the children’s play area is also closed.

“At the entrance we will add the people who are entering through a digital system to keep track, as well as a vehicle count in the parking lot. The host who charges parking and provides information has acrylic panels and a face shield. On the terrace, there is a capacity of 525 people and we have already reduced the chairs to 180 chairs, but now we will lower them to 25 percent of the capacity,” said Miguel González, vice president of Operations at San Patricio Plaza.

“We hope that a little more than 35 percent of customers will arrive, which is the percentage that the United States has had at the beginning of its opening in shopping centers. Big chains like T.J. Maxx and Bed Bath & Beyond that have an entrance outside the mall still don’t have an opening date,” he said, regarding San Patricio Plaza’s limitations.

While estimates vary per mall, anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of retailers and eating establishments planned to open at each facility. As per the Executive Order, movie theaters, gaming areas and valet parking services remain closed at all malls.

Some major retail stores are still closed, such as Macy’s and JCPenney, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. For its part, Macy’s has reported that it expects a first quarter 2020 loss of up to $1.1 billion, reflecting the heavy toll that the coronavirus crisis has taken on the retail industry.

“We have worked hard to establish effective safety and hygiene plans. We are redoubling cleaning efforts within the mall, using antibacterial and antiviral detergents. Our aim is to help the economy move in a responsible and safe way,” said Eduardo Villamil, vice president of Empresas Villamil, which owns the Mayagüez Mall.

- Reporter Brenda A. Vázquez Colón contributed to this story.

Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience. Rosario received both of her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in International Politics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

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