Jeff Wells is eager to reopen his two Fleet Feet stores to customers in the Richmond region on Friday morning.
“We are ready, we are excited and we are nervous. It is a gumbo mix of those three feelings,” Wells said Thursday afternoon.
His two athletic shoe and apparel stores — at 5600 Patterson Ave. in Richmond and at 11651 W. Broad St. in the Promenade Shops across from Short Pump Town Center — already are booked with appointments on Friday and Saturday.
The only way to get inside the store is to make an appointment and only three appointments per hour are being scheduled at each store.
“We are starting off very conservatively to get the lay of the land and get our feet on the ground to take care of everybody,” Wells said.
Gov. Ralph Northam granted Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s request on Thursday to delay Richmond’s entry into Phase One of Virginia’s reopening, but “nonessential” retailers can operate with 10 or fewer customers in stores. If Richmond was part of Phase One, those retailers could operate at 50% capacity.
Other independent stores, national retailers and most malls — with the exception of Stony Point Fashion Park — throughout the Richmond region are reopening their doors Friday for the first time in two months.
Merchants and mall operators say they see the reopenings as “promising news” but stress they are taking stringent efforts to follow Virginia’s safety protocols for slowly reopening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not all of our tenants are reopening. No one is expecting that it will be bustling right away until people feel comfortable about coming back,” said Lindsay Kahn, a spokeswoman for Brookfield Properties, one of the nation’s largest mall operators, which owns roughly two-thirds of Short Pump Town Center in Henrico County and manages Chesterfield Towne Center.
“We’re trying to provide a sense of comfort and normalcy,” she said.
The two malls will reopen with social distancing signage, enhanced cleaning procedures, hand sanitizing stations throughout, modified operating hours and capacity limits among other safety measures.
“There is a huge emphasis on health and safety,” Kahn said.
Both malls will have security personnel monitoring the number of customers entering the shopping centers and to make sure the customers follow social distancing rules. “If there is a big group or people not following social distancing, our security will kindly remind them to follow them.”
Mall employees will be wearing masks, she said. And the centers will be giving some masks away.
About 35% to 40% of mall tenants at Short Pump will reopen, including Saxon Shoes, Franco’s Fine Clothiers, Schwarzschild Jewelers and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Some tenants said they are not ready to reopen, she said. Others, including stores and restaurants, will continue to offer curbside service.
Both malls as well as Regency, Virginia Center Commons and Southpark Mall will operate on a reduced scheduled — 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
At Regency, general manager Steve Bonniville said the center’s security personnel will be roaming the two-level mall to make sure large groups are not congregating. To discourage gatherings, seating in the food court has been removed, as have the soft chairs and sofas scattered throughout the mall.
“We’re looking for the shopper to come in, hit the stores and then move on. It is less about hanging out,” Bonniville said. “At some point in the future, we will get back to that, but that is not the intention now.”
About 50% of stores inside Regency and Virginia Center Commons are expected to open this weekend, he said. Stores including Journeys at Regency will reopen, as will Jimmy Jazz and Upstreamers at both centers.
Mamie’s Apothecary in Carytown reopened earlier this week, but the store is limiting the number of customers to about six at any one time, said Lisa McSherry, who owns that shop and the next-door Lex’s of Carytown.
“We can have up to 10 people [by the governor’s regulations] but we haven’t had the need to do that yet,” McSherry said about Mamie’s Apothecary. “There really hasn’t been that many people roaming the streets of Carytown yet. We’re just having some people trickle in a little bit here and there.”
Reopening Mamie’s Apothecary this week felt good, she said. “”It just gives you a tiny, tiny sense of normalcy.”
But her Lex’s of Carytown formalwear store is a different story. It shut down right in the middle of prom season, when it generates about 80% of annual sales.
The store will operate by appointment only through the summer. “To get a walk-in to buy a formal is kind of silly. Anyone who needs a formal dress will make an appointment to come in,” McSherry said.
Biggs Ltd., an upscale gift and home décor store in Stony Point Fashion Park, is waiting to reopen.
“We are going to wait and see a little bit,” store manager Jim Biggs said Thursday before Northam approved Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s request to delay Phase One of reopening in the city.
“We hope toward the end of the month for sure,” Biggs said. “We are being cautious.”
At Fleet Feet, Wells also is being cautious in reopening his two stores.
The store will begin checking temperatures of all employees before they start their shifts. Hand sanitizers and wipes are available throughout the store for employees and customers to use. Signs are posted everywhere to remind customers about social distancing. Workers will be required to wear masks. Product that is returned will be quarantined.
The stores hours are shorter than before — now operating 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. But Wells stressed by appointment only — at least for the foreseeable future.
“This is a new era,” Wells said.