While Gov. Tim Walz has given the green light for stores in Minnesota to reopen as soon as Monday, it will take days or weeks before some get back up and running as they recall furloughed employees and establish new safety protocols.
Once they do open, the next hurdle will be convincing shoppers it’s safe to return. While there’s pent-up demand among some consumers restless to get out of the house, retailers acknowledge many others will hesitate for a while to go back to stores for discretionary purchases.
Rosedale Center, the Galleria, Ridgedale and Burnsville Center will open Monday. Mall of America is opening for shopping on June 1.
“We don’t know what to expect,” said Kari Palmer, marketing director of Maple Grove-based Schuler Shoes, which will reopen its eight Twin Cities stores Monday. “Are we going to be opening to crickets or lines out the door or somewhere in between?”
The company is planning conservatively, calling back about half its furloughed employees, with others on deck if customer traffic ends up being higher than expected.
Walz’s announcement Wednesday night that nonessential retail can reopen next week sent many stores and shopping malls scrambling Thursday to figure out how quickly — and responsibly — they can resume operations. Others have decided to wait to reopen.
“I definitely think we’ll see a lot of retailers open on Monday,” said Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, noting that many Main Street businesses have been hashing out their reopening plans for weeks. “But others will take their time.”
Rosedale in Roseville, Ridgedale in Minnetonka, the Galleria in Edina and Burnsville Center will open with limited hours and with the expectation that some stores will remain closed. The malls will ask visitors to wear face masks and are urging those who don’t feel well to stay home.
The Galleria said it would provide hand sanitizer at entrances and remove communal seating areas. Rosedale has suspended its before-hours walking program.
Other shopping malls in the region were in discussions with their owners and tenants Thursday to discuss the timing of reopening and increased safety measures. The Mall of America is among those taking its time. The megamall, with more than 500 stores, will reopen for shopping June 1.
“It’s not like we can just flip the switch and the doors open,” Jill Renslow, an executive vice president at the mall, said last week. “We want to make sure that our property is ready and it’s safe.”
In a statement, the mall said it is taking the extra time to give its diverse retail tenants, which include small businesses as well as national and global brands, time to rehire staff and prepare for stepped-up cleaning and other safety measures.
The Mall of America has been working on its own new safety protocols that include plexiglass barriers at guest service areas, face masks for workers, social distancing markers at directories and designating specific doors at each wing for entering and exiting the mall. In-person dining and attractions such as Nickelodeon Universe will remain closed until the state allows them to reopen.
The Mall of America was part of a statewide roundtable of retail associations, local chambers of commerce and other business groups tasked by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to come up with a plan to safely reopen retail in the state.
The plan Walz laid out Wednesday night “closely mirrors” the guidelines put together by the roundtable, said Nustad of the Retailers Association. It requires retailers that reopen to have a safety plan in place, including social distancing measures and limiting the number of people in stores to half the building’s or store’s maximum occupancy.
The roundtable decided the occupancy rate was a more practical approach than putting out guidelines based on square footage, which is more complicated given that every store has a different layout and amount of shelf space, Nustad said.
“It’s simple math” to get to the 50% rate, he said. “And frankly, most stores are unlikely to hit that max.”
Cooks of Crocus Hill — which has locations in the North Loop, St. Paul and Stillwater — is aiming to reopen Wednesday as it calls back furloughed employees.
Just as employees will have to get their heads around coming into work every day after staying home for weeks, owner Karl Benson expects it will take customers time to get acclimated to in-person shopping again.
“There will be a lag certainly,” he said. “We hope that in a couple of weeks, people will be less intimidated about leaving home. But we won’t be back to normal for a while.”
Evereve, the Edina-based women’s clothing chain, reopened 16 stores earlier this week where retailers have been permitted to reopen, including Texas and Georgia.
“It’s been slow — a lot of exchanges and online returns,” said Mike Tamte, the company’s co-CEO. Sales are about half what is normal, he added.
Tamte is hoping to reopen eight of the 10 Evereve stores in the Twin Cities by Wednesday.
“We’re talking with our employees about their comfort level in coming back,” he said. “We don’t want to force someone at this point who says, ‘I may want to wait another week.’ Or they may have child-care concerns they may not have had before COVID.”
Macy’s and Nordstrom, which have begun to reopen stores in some parts of the country, have not yet said what they plan to do in Minnesota.
Richfield-based Best Buy is allowing shoppers into only roughly half its stores nationwide by appointment while keeping curbside pickup also running.
As apparel stores reopen, some are closing their fitting rooms and waiting a day to put returned merchandise back on the sales floor. Others are looking for creative ways to make sure customers feel safe.
“With shoes, people want to try them on,” said Palmer of Schuler Shoes. “Our business is built on people coming into our stores to be fitted for shoes. We’ve been doing that for nearly 131 years.”
So in addition to having employees wear a mask and gloves, Schuler’s new safety protocols include giving customers the option of having a contactless shoe fitting by talking them through questions such as, “Can you feel your big toe? Do you have half an inch ahead of it?”
The retailer will also require customers to wear socks while trying on shoes. And it will test a new plexiglass barrier on wheels that can be placed between a customer and employee during a fitting to block sneezes and coughs.
When it reopens Monday, Kremer’s Toy and Hobby in Albertville plans to ask customers to use hand sanitizer provided by the store or to wash their hands in the restroom when they walk in.
“Most of our staff are family members, and we can’t afford to all get sick,” said Ruth Kremer.
She added that she feels fully prepared to reopen since she and her employees were vigilant about cleaning even before the pandemic.
“I worked 12 years in health care,” she said. “Our staff always cleaned throughout the day. If a kid was coughing and sneezing we’d watch their path and disinfect after they left. We disinfect play areas and pens after each credit card transaction.”
But Erin Duininck, owner of Golden Rule Gallery in Excelsior, is not planning to reopen her art gallery and shop to foot traffic anytime soon. She’s contemplating letting visitors in by appointment in June.
“I can’t in good conscience open yet,” she said, noting that her workers are hesitant to interact with the public and she wants to make sure she takes time to ensure she can reopen safely.
In the meantime, she said online and curbside sales have been going fairly well.
Staff writer John Ewoldt contributed to this report.