‘It feels like Christmas’: Santa Clara County malls finally reopen
Westfield shopping centers reopened Monday, including Westfield Valley Fair and Westfield Oakridge. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

After three months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, Westfield shopping centers in Santa Clara County, including Oakridge and Valley Fair, reopened for business Monday.

“Westfield is excited to open our doors again … as we begin our initial recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Leah Heil, vice president of shopping center management.

Anticipation ran through the crowd of customers waiting for the Westfield Oakridge doors to open at 11 a.m. Smiling Westfield employees greeted them. Posted safety guidelines included mandatory face masks. T Keys were on sale that can open doors and press keypads without finger contact, with a portion of the profits going to No Kid Hungry, which provides meals for children in need.

Additional Westfield safety practices include increased frequency of cleaning, limited number of customers entering and in lines, social distancing and additional hand sanitizer stations. Most fitting rooms are closed, and some retailers decided not to permit clothing returns.

“We have been working closely with our retailers to welcome back guests and are excited to come together as a community again,” said Julian Esposito, Westfield Oakridge general manager.

“We understand the entire shopping experience is going to be a bit different than what we’re used to,” he continued, “and together we’re doing our best to ensure the best experience possible in a healthy, clean and safe environment for customers as we reopen our doors.”

Customers strolled through the uncrowded corridors, delighting in their new-found freedom.

Customer Janice Fontanetti went shopping Monday with her dog, Dolly, after malls were shuttered for three months. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

“It feels like it’s Christmas,” said customer Janice Fontanetti, who was shopping with her dog, Dolly. “I want to cry.”

Fontanetti said it felt good to be walking the halls again and said she appreciated Wesfield’s safety precautions.

Customer Mikaela Lin said it was nice getting out after being inside for so long, but said it felt different walking around and seeing everyone wearing masks.

Although the Apple store, Macy’s, Old Navy and Papaya were open today, most stores, including Forever 21, GameStop, H&M, Loft and Nordstrom Rack plan to open Thursday.

Esposito said the mall is opening in phases to give retailers time to reconfigure their stores to meet social distancing guidelines, train employees in safety measures and bring in the latest inventory.

During the initial reopening period, the centers will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Sean Kang, district manager, De Masqe, said he is grateful the women’s clothing store is open as he struggled financially and missed working. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Sean Kang, district manager of De Masqe, said he struggled financially and missed working during the closure, so he is grateful the women’s clothing store has re-opened. All 11 employees are back to work.

The store is limiting customers to 15 at a time and is not accepting clothing returns. Hand sanitizer is available on a table by the door and the store limits customers to 15 at a time.

“People need to socialize,” Kang said. “I hope everyone enjoys shopping.”

Customer Arlene Regalado said it “felt good and a little scary,” to be shopping again, although it was difficult not being able to try on clothes.

“We’re social distancing and doing what we have to do to keep safe,” Regalado said.

Kristen Garcia, who shopped at clothing stores Jenn and Papaya, said she was excited to shop again but disappointed all the stores weren’t open. She said she plans to return on Thursday.

Jenn employees spent the weekend cleaning and moving clothes in and out of storage. The store limited its customers to 10 at a time.

Garcia said she was searching for the perfect top.

“It’s my birthday coming up, so I need a nice new shirt to go out with,” she said.

She had faith in the safety measures in place.

“I think if everyone stays socially distanced and follows common sense, everything will be OK,” Garcia said.

Papaya manager Young Kin found reopening challenging. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Papaya manager Young Kin said that reopening was a challenge. Last week she prepared the store for opening, cleaning and setting up the clothing displays.

“It’s kind of scary, but also a relief to open,” Kin said watching customers slowly trickle in.

Kin chose to open Monday — instead of Thursday — to recoup sales lost during the shutdown. As she helped check out shoppers, she kept an eye on the door to limit 45 customers at a time.

Although the reopening of local malls is a start towards normalization, safety remains paramount, managers said.

Although primarily outdoor shopping venues like Santana Row and Stanford Shopping Center were previously cleared to reopen, San Jose malls like Eastridge Center, Westfield Oakridge Mall and Westfield Valley Fair had remained closed since March.

The state’s guidelines for shopping centers requires physical distancing, the universal use of face coverings, frequent opportunities for hand washing and prevention training.

Eastridge Center is now set to open 11 a.m. Wednesday. The delayed opening allowed employees time to meet the state’s guidelines, according to Ashley Alexander, a publicist with NINICO Communications.

To keep people safe, nano septic skins – a material that automatically disinfects itself after each touch – will be installed at high touch points of the mall, such as door handles. Elevators will be limited to one person and three people can be six feet apart on escalators.

While operating under shorter hours, there will be a “golden hour” set aside for high-risk groups, such as seniors and those with weak immune systems to go shopping.

For those who wish to stay out of the building, stores will have assigned curbside pick-up areas for customers.

Employees will wear masks and gloves and workers’ body temperatures will be checked. Additionally, a dedicated staff will continuously sanitize common areas around the center.

Reporter Katie Lauer contributed to this report.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at lorrainegabbertsjspotlight@gmail.com.

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