SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday, Ana Rodriguez and her four children put their masks on and ventured to the City Creek mall, leaving their home in West Valley City for the first time in over a month.
“It’s been very hard because I work, it’s frustrating with all my kids at home,” said Rodriguez, who has been steadily employed by an eyewear company during the pandemic. “I’m excited for everything to reopen, but I’m a little nervous. I don’t want my kids to get the coronavirus.”
City Creek Center opened its doors for the first time in almost two months on Wednesday. Officials abruptly closed the downtown mall on March 12 after discovering a patron who had been shopping there just days earlier had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Fashion Place and Station Park malls are also now open, with the Gateway following suit on Friday. The openings give people like Rodriguez and her family a taste of what things were like before the pandemic, although life is still far from normal.
Crowds were sparse but masks were abundant, per Gov. Gary Herbert’s request, and a number of the stores remained closed. Drinking fountains were shut off, the children's play area and other high-traffic zones were closed, the food court was reconfigured to promote social distancing and mall staff spent the day constantly cleaning. Signs placed around the center read “PLEASE do not enter if you are sick,” “Do your part,” and “Face covering recommended,” a grim reminder that the world is still in the throes of a deadly pandemic.
The stores that did open saw a steady stream of customers, some window shopping but many eager to “go spend some money,” as Wade Branham, store manager for Zumiez, put it.
“It has been pretty busy, busier than your average Wednesday, that’s for sure,” he said. “People are excited to get out and have something to do.”
Despite his location being closed for the majority of the past two months, Branham stayed on full time at Zumiez, processing and shipping online orders. But for many mall employees, Wednesday was the first day back to work.
“It’s a little bit weird but exciting. The normal routine is nice for sure, we’re all excited,” said Courtney Vandegrift, store manager for Böhme, who has been struggling with unemployment since the mall closed. “A lot of people are stir crazy, they’re excited to come out and see what’s open.”
That included David Fuell and Daria Griffith, who finally got a chance Wednesday to go suit and dress shopping for their upcoming wedding. Getting married amid a pandemic has proven to be a difficult task for the recently engaged couple and both have spent months trying to find a feasible date.
“Now that the stores are open we’re actually able to get an estimate on what we can do,” said Griffith. “It wasn’t the original plan, but it’s working for us right now. ... It’s hard trying to arrange a date with venues, and looking at when temples are open,” she said, referring to temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that have been closed since March 25.
Although Griffith is excited to see businesses start to open back up, she says it should be a slow process.
“We need to be very, very careful. The virus hasn’t changed, only our behaviors have,” she said as she adjusted her mask. “We need to treat this like we’re still on lockdown, in my opinion, so we can keep people safe.”