Coronavirus cases rise among young people while amusement parks, playgrounds, and malls are set to open.
ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP — After being shuttered for about four months due to the novel coronavirus, Rockaway Townsquare reopened on Monday morning to masked shoppers.
The mall, just off Route 80, reopened its doors at 11, and its stores may allow only 50% of the previous maximum capacity.
Frank Ryan, 22, of Randolph parked and looked curiously at the mostly empty parking lot as he slipped on his N95 mask.
“I was heading to Macy’s to get a gift for my girlfriend’s birthday, and also to get some sunglasses and summer clothes,” he said. “I think we are doing the right thing in opening up slowly. It’s about time the mall opens up. But I think that everybody should wear masks. I am not worried about me, because I am younger, but I wear the mask because I respect others.”
The mall reopened with a virus “exposure control policy” in place, management said.
“We have developed a thorough and detailed set of protocols highlighting the exceptional measures we’ve implemented for shoppers, retailers and employees as we reopen,” said Erica Bennington, general manager at Rockaway Townsquare.
“We also recognize that individuals and families in our community are suffering significant hardship as a result of both COVID-19 and the economic shutdown, and we believe that reopening our property will not only help people get back to work during these challenging times, but also enable us to use our property to further support charitable initiatives,” she said.
Safety protocol distributed by management to tenants includes “enhanced sanitization and disinfecting using the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approved products with an emphasis on high-traffic locations such as dining areas, restrooms, escalators, stairs, directories, trash bins and doorknobs,” management said.
Protective masks, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizing stations are available to shoppers, along with voluntary temperature checks at entrances and property offices.
Signs promoting CDC guidelines for hygiene and social distancing practices are on display, and play areas and strollers are off limits.
A “pre-emptive” employee health screening policy has been put in place so “employees do not arrive at work within 72 hours of exhibiting COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms.” Shoppers are also encouraged to get tested and “stay home if they have exhibited COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms within 72 hours,” management said.
Employee safety protections include frequent hand-washing and available personal protective equipment, in addition to other CDC-recommended practices.
The mall provides “more than 2,500 jobs” and contributes $16.4 million in sales tax and $6.4 million in property tax revenue to the state, mall representatives said.
“Our property is an integral part of our community not only in terms of shopping, dining and entertainment, but also job creation, small-business growth and community support. We look forward to once again serving the needs of our community, and doing so in a safe and responsible manner,” Bennington said.
Renee Rem, 50, who works at White Diamond Jewelers in the mall, said she wasn’t worried about returning to work, but older co-workers were. Employees at the mall had a chance to ease back into things, as the reopening had a slow start.
The crowd of mostly curious shoppers that showed up at 11 a.m. thinned out quickly as people realized many stores have yet to open, Rem said.
“We haven’t really been busy with new customers,” she said. “A lot of stores are still closed, and I think people were disappointed by that.”
The majority of customers Rem saw were there to pick up items placed on layaway in March, when stores closed “abruptly.”
Rockaway Townsquare closed on March 19 to address the spread of COVID-19.
It’s not clear how many of the more than 100 shops and restaurants in the mall will be open. Neither management nor its representatives would respond to specific questions.
Gene Myers is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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