About 20 minutes before 11 a.m. Wednesday a queue started to form outside of entrance two at Fredericton’s Regent Mall — the only entrance to the mall available for public use right now.
A few dozen people stood in anticipation of the reopening, eagerly awaiting the opening of the doors for the first time since the coronavirus shut it and other retailers down.
Shoppers shuffled in the physically distant queue toward the mall entrance, inching closer to normalcy in what is beginning to look like a post-pandemic reality.
“I feel like it’s going to be a little bit difficult with everybody showing up to keep the six feet apart and to stay social distancing,” said Alissa St.-Onge, one of the prospective shoppers.
“I’m expecting not to touch anything.”
St.-Onge said she, like many others, shopped online during the lockdown but missed being able to experience the products in person.
“I’m not sure about the change rooms being open or the return policies or anything,” she said.
Once the doors opened, a spokesperson for the Regent Mall addressed the first few people in line, providing a rundown of guidelines and what to expect.
Inside, shoppers were greeted by security guards urging people to familiarize themselves with a sign listing symptoms of COVID-19 before entering. Any symptoms and you’re not permitted inside.
Sanitizer and directions are provided by security.
Through the familiar hallways, people walked in uniformity, following lanes marked out by yellow tape. Some shoppers donned masks, some chose to go without.
But while the retail staple is open, many of the stores remain closed.
Of the mall’s 90 retailers, only 20 stores and restaurants are open. Included among them is the popular clothing and footwear chain Boathouse.
Only six people are allowed inside at one time, and hand sanitizer is available for customers before entering.
According to staff, customers are permitted to try on clothes. But if the item goes un-purchased, itgets put in a box for 72 hours before going back on the shelves.
Several food vendors are open, but unlike the days before the COVID-19 shutdown, there’s no sitting, chatting or socializing in the food court.
Although disappointed that some retail favourites were still closed, Donna Arseneau said the new mall experience made her feel — above all — safe.
“I don’t know what I was expecting, but I like the way that they have it — with the six feet apart,” she said.
“It feels comfortable, so it makes it nice to go and shop and have a little bit more normal back, but still have the safety we need.”
McAllister Place mostly dark
The experience is similar in the Port City. Masks, lineups, closed-doors, an empty food court, and the smell of disinfectant.
Around 70 shoppers lined up for the opening of McAllister Place in east Saint John.
The mall has been closed for the better part of two months — likely the most prolonged closure since it opened in 1978.
Shoppers there had a mix of long-awaited mall missions to fulfill. Most said they were there to get their phones fixed. Others were coveting arguably less-essential items: birthday gifts, a new nightie, a video game.
It was a “re-opening” in the loosest sense of the world. A single entrance on the McAllister Drive side of the mall is unlocked and customers are allowed inside, a few dozen at a time.
But only 22 out of 90 stores and restaurants are serving customers. A handful are offering curbside pickup only. Eight more shops and fast food restaurants are expected to open later this week.
It was hardly a return to the glory days of retail therapy. Some shoppers waited in line, only to take a brief look inside and come back out, disappointed. The mall is still mostly dark, and mostly empty. There’s nowhere to sit, few places to eat. But the mall is, technically, open for business.