Foot traffic was mixed as shops across Minnesota were allowed to reopen Monday for the first time in two months.
There were few customers at the stores along Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Same at the popular tourist shops in Duluth.
At Rosedale Center, though, a small crowd waited for doors to open at 11 a.m. Some shoppers walked right back out when they saw that Foot Locker and many other stores were still closed.
But within an hour, the Von Maur department store, which was having a rare 30% off sale, was hopping with small lines forming at most registers. And Altar’d State, a women’s clothing store that limited the number of shoppers inside to 10, sometimes had customers waiting to enter.
An occasional announcement reminded shoppers to maintain social distance, cover coughs and use hand sanitizer or wash their hands. Drinking fountains and common seating areas were taped off. Most employees were in face masks, with more than half of shoppers wearing them, too.
Joyce Flicker of Oakdale was “overjoyed” to be out of the house and shopping again in stores. “I do some online shopping but I like to come and try my clothes on,” she said as she browsed the shoe department at Von Maur. “I am a visual person, so I like to come and see things.”
Others such as Samone Bodley, who was on the hunt for a new pair of work shoes, were disappointed more stores weren’t open yet. “I probably should have ordered something online,” she said.
All stores across Minnesota were able to reopen this week at 50% capacity. But only some did so on Monday; more are expected to do so as they recall furloughed employees and put new safety protocols into place.
About 20 of Rosedale’s 120 stores were open on Monday, including Urban Outfitters, Ragstock and Zumiez. Meanwhile, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, the Apple Store, Forever 21 and H&M were closed.
Lisa Crain, the mall’s general manager, said she expects most stores will be open by June 1.
“For a Monday morning, I was surprised by the amount of traffic and what people were buying,” she said. “People are ready to shop and they were doing their social distancing.”
But at the popular intersection of Grand and Victoria in St. Paul, traffic was light around the noon hour. The usually full parking lot behind Victoria Crossing Mall was about one-third full. Many stores such as J. Crew, Lululemon and Pottery Barn remained closed.
At Allure, a custom-fit intimate apparel store, fittings were touchless.
“We were calling customers last week to set up appointments,” said salesperson Taylor Austin. “We’ve got three appointments today, and normally we’d have about six or seven on a Monday.”
Shoppers walking the avenue were mostly headed into nearby restaurants or coffee shops or service centers such as UPS.
Karen Christensen of St. Paul stopped for drinks at Starbucks but didn’t plan to browse along the avenue.
“I’m going to skip the nonessential shopping this week until everything gets sorted out,” she said. “I really want the bars and restaurants to open, too, but I’m not sure I’ll be ready to visit them right away. It will take awhile.”
Shoesters had a customer as soon as the front door was unlocked and employee Nancy Kohlsaat put on her mask. Kohlsaat looked for signs to put on the front door about not touching display shoes and customer limits — four in the Grand Avenue store.
Most shopping malls around the Twin Cities reopened Monday with the notable exception of the Mall of America, which will wait to open until June 1. But many have limited hours and only a fraction of stores open.
As malls have reopened, many have put hand sanitizer stations in prominent areas, increased cleanings, and provided face masks for employees to wear. While they’re not requiring it, most are also encouraging shoppers to also wear cloth face coverings.
The Galleria in Edina has face masks on hand for shoppers who forget them, as do some of its stores, said Wendy Eisenberg, the mall’s general manager. It also removed the furniture in the corridors.
About 20 of the Galleria’s 70 stores reopened on Monday.
“By the end of the week, we’ll have 30,” Eisenberg said. “We’re really happy. We had an initial list — and then there were a few surprises today. So it’s exciting to have that much participation.”
The local retailers tend to be a bit more nimble and have been able to open faster than some of the national players, she added. With stores limiting the number of people inside, some stores have started taking down phone numbers so they can text customers when they can come in, like waiting lists at restaurants. Others are scheduling private appointments.
Some small shops such as Barely Brothers Records in St. Paul are requiring customers to wear face masks in order to enter; Costco and Menards also require masks.
While many record shops around the Twin Cities reopened on Monday, the Electric Fetus is holding off for now, telling customers via Twitter that it still has “a lot of details to work out to keep everyone safe.”
In Duluth’s Canal Park, a popular tourist destination on the shore of Lake Superior, a smattering of stores decided to open Monday morning.
At Duluth Pack, which sells its own canvas bags along with clothing and camping gear, store employees wore masks made with the stores logo on them.
“This is a pretty exciting day for us,” said Tom Sega, co-owner of the large store, which has been closed since March 22. “From the business end of things it’s something that has to happen.”
Customer traffic was light inside the store on Monday, but owners expect it will be for a while, until people warm to the idea that shopping can be done safely. One customer came in to buy a graduation gift; another came in for a Boundary Waters permit.
They are hopeful tourism will bounce back, too, bringing more people to town.
“There is still quite a bit of uncertainty,” said co-owner Mark Oestreich. “Instead of flying to Florida, are they going to drive to Duluth? We hope so.”
Inside the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, most stores were still closed.
Jane Jenkins was working inside her Blue Heron Trading Co. cooking store Monday morning, but the doors were still locked. Though she has been selling a few items by curbside pickup, she said, she didn’t feel comfortable inviting people in to shop given what medical professionals are still saying.
Still, she doesn’t look down on any other stores for opening.
“It was a terrible week last week, trying to decide what I was going to do. I’m following my heart,” she said. “We’ll see what happens this week. Every day, new things happen.”
She is tentatively aiming to open on May 26, she said, but could decide to open earlier or later.
At Duluth’s Miller Hill Mall, many of the shoppers who trickled in said they were relieved to do something that felt so normal. But many were disappointed to see many stores — such as Bath & Body Works, Express, Old Navy and Victoria’s Secret — still closed.
Sarah and Brandon Johnson drove over from Superior, Wis. She bought a pair of shoes at DSW. He bought an adjustable New York Yankees baseball cap. Neither of them tried on their purchase and were careful to stay away from other people.
Going to the mall added a touch of normalcy to the day, they said.
“We needed some clothes. … It’s been a couple of months,” he said. “I figured this place would be a lot less crowded than a grocery store.”
University of Minnesota Duluth student Josie Chapman walked into the mall to look for a birthday gift for a friend. “It feels good to have something to finally do,” she said.
Staff writer Chris Riemenschneider contributed to this report.