Business owners and customers returned to Trolley Square mall on Wednesday as the building reopened its doors to the public for the first time since Monday night's tragic shooting spree that left six people dead, including the gunman.
Mall owners met with tenants Tuesday night to decide on the best way to move forward. Trolley co-owner Tom Bard said the group concluded that the mall itself would reopen Wednesday, but each business owner could set his or her own schedule for opening.
Opening on Wednesday was not to re-establish a "sense of business as usual, but to let the healing process begin," Bard said.
Yellow police tape that had surrounded the mall since Monday night was taken down in the early morning. The doors were unlocked at 8 a.m. Many store owners reopened their own doors at 10 a.m. Bard expected the vast majority of businesses to be open again by Friday.
A steady stream of people flowed through the mall. Some were just curious and wanted to see what had happened. Others were shoppers anxious to let the businesses know of their support.
Andrew Wright, a regular visitor of the mall, arrived early in the morning just to look around.
"This is a historical part of Salt Lake City. It sucks something like that happened here," he said.
Wright said his young daughters are afraid to visit the mall now. But he wanted to encourage them, and everyone else, to visit the mall, so that the healing process could continue.
"I think people need to make a thoughtful, concerted effort to come and get back to normal," he said. "(We want) to try and feel normal about this place again. I'm surprised they opened so quickly. But it's appropriate."
Wright said that as he was entering the mall, he passed a security guard and asked how he was doing. The guard's reply was that he was just trying to get back to normal.
"That's why I'm here, too," Wright told the guard.
Mayor Rocky Anderson also visited the mall Wednesday to lay flowers at the fountain and to chat with store owners, as well as encourage the community to unite.
"Trolley Square has been a real institution in this community for a long time," he said. He urged residents to return to the mall "to recall what happened, but most importantly, to show a sense of unity."
Little evidence of the massacre remained Wednesday. Nearly every window that was broken had been replaced, except for one large pane at Cabin Fever. Marks that appeared to be bullet holes were patched up. Two such markings had the numbers 75 and 76 above them before a custodian painted over them. The windows of Pottery Barn Kids had been replaced but were covered by paper taped to them from the inside.
Employees at Rodizio Grill were preparing food and getting ready to open for lunch. Valentine's Day shoppers arrived early at Harolds. Outside Casa Bella, a sign said, "Our sincere condolences to all those who suffered or lost a loved one on Monday night."
On the second level of the mall, the manager of Rocky Mountain Chocolate was preparing Wednesday for what was traditionally his busiest day of the year. But Travis Murphy said what was most important was to try and get back to some sense of normalcy.
"Even if it's just one person that comes in (today) ... we're here. It's good to be back working," he said.
Mall owners gave the building a final walk-through prior to opening, checking everything from the parking terrace to the facade of the stores. The last bit of yellow police tape that remained was torn off as the owners tried to make everything look as normal as possible.
Mall owners, however, who had invited the media to attend a press conference in the atrium, initially did not allow anything within the mall, including balloons and flowers left in the atrium as a tribute to the victims, to be photographed, even if the store owners allowed their stores to be photographed. The mall owners initially forbade reporters from talking to store owners but later said it was fine if the interviews were conducted inside that owner's store or outside the mall.
Reporters also were not allowed to talk to people walking through the mall even if they agreed to be interviewed outside.
Bard said the mall wanted to respect business owners in their time of mourning and help them heal without intrusion.
"We are trying to respond in the right way," said Jerry Hunt, part of the mall's development company.
Not all stores opened Wednesday. Cabin Fever, where four people were shot, three fatally, will not open for another week. Store owners, however, were busy Wednesday morning arranging merchandise in their store and preparing for their customers to return.
"We really felt we needed a little more time for ourselves. It's a very small way of showing of our condolences to the families," said Cabin Fever co-owner David Dean.
A candle and a flower were placed at the store's entrance, as well as a sign posted on the door saying, "Our hearts and thoughts are with the victims and their families." The note concluded by saying, "Life is precious."
"I believe in lighting candles. It's been a source of consolation since I was a boy," Dean said.
His store was mostly cleaned up before he came back. "All of the crime-scene evidence was completely gone," he said.
The shooting Monday happened so quickly that no one had time to react, Dean said. An employee working that night saw the gunman coming and told everyone to run out the back entrance. Before anyone had any time to take cover, the gunman opened fire inside the store and then turned to the next store, he said.
Some customers in the store survived, but three did not. Dean said his deepest condolences go the families of those killed and injured. He feels blessed, however, that none of his employees was hurt.
Although Cabin Fever will be closed for a week, Dean said his other store in the mall, Tabula Rasa, was open Wednesday, and he expected most businesses to be reopened by today.
Mall owners praised the actions of police, including the off-duty Ogden police officer, Ken Hammond, who first confronted the gunman.
"That level of response saved numerous lives," Bard said. "It could have been a lot worse."
Contributing: Doug Smeath