Pandemic, Clearance and the Pursuit of Shopping: The Reopening of New Jersey Malls

By Kenny Lo

Student Lifestyle Editor

Shopping malls are the quintessential Jersey locations to go to. There is something about malls that makes the people of New Jersey feel good. In a way, malls can be considered essential to the well-being of New Jersey residents.

One can only imagine the effects of removing a piece of Jersey Americana away from its people, especially since it was one of the many establishments to be closed first during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Certainly malls are part of New Jersey culture and lore, I think as much here if not more so than any American state,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said during his daily coronavirus briefing on June 18, 2020

“We want these businesses to get back up and running responsibly and safely.”

As of Monday, June 29, 2020, Stage 2 of Murphy’s multi-stage strategic restart plan went into effect and for the first time in over three months, the malls of New Jersey have reopened. 

Yet, reopening doesn’t come without the necessary precautions:

  • Masks or face coverings are required to be worn 
  • All stores limited to 50 percent capacity 
  • Restaurants may provide take-out or outdoor dining 
  • Food court seating and common seating areas remained closed 
  • Theaters and arcades remained closed 

To show how much they agreed with the governor, Jerseyans are showing up in droves across the state. 

In Paramus, residents of Bergen and its neighboring counties flocked Westfield Garden State Plaza. Despite only 95 stores being open – about a third of its total stores, with others opening at a later day – it was still a very strong turnout.

Ryan of Woodbridge works for Urban Outfitters, and he told me that they had a line all day so far. I asked him how they maintain the occupancy limit. 

“We have employees checking the number of people and we also keep a counter to make sure we’re under the limit,” Ryan said. 

I asked a few shoppers what the most difficult part of the reopening was. 

“The lines. Definitely the lines. But it’s understandable because people haven’t shopped in months,” Rowen and Kate of Montclair said.

But what’s it like to have the malls back again and what do people miss the most? 

“It’s good! Oh, and the sales!” Ashanti of Carlstadt joyfully responded. She also told me the lines aren’t so bad, except the one at Forever 21.

Therefore, I went to Forever 21. I asked Alex of Jersey City, who manages the line, what it was like all day. 

“It’s been good. We get people. I guess after three months without going to the mall you get this many people. Unfortunately, we have to keep it at capacity.”

Speaking of enforcing the rules, one of the security guards, Castro of Paterson, told me that they have to enforce wearing the mask at all times while inside the mall. There were a few rulebreakers I noticed.

Of the four nearby malls I visited, the busiest mall (until the American Dream fully reopens), has to be Westfield Garden State Plaza. It’s a good thing they have their social distancing guidelines in place, especially in the restrooms, and have hand sanitizers available throughout the mall.

The thing I noticed that most stores were not doing is temperature checks, but it wasn’t officially part of the guidelines laid out by Gov. Murphy. 

Perhaps it will just have to be under the discretion of some stores.

Paramus Park Mall and The Shops at Riverside in Hackensack have a handful of stores that are open. They do have their social distancing guidelines in place throughout the mall as they continue to prepare to fully open to the public. 

Meanwhile, the third Paramus mall, The Outlets of Bergen County, has had the luxury of opening a week early due to some of their stores having outdoor access. 

They have also been busy during this pandemic with their Whole Foods, Target, CVS and Lowe’s all being considered essential retail.

With the guidelines in place, New Jersey malls are more than ready to welcome back their shoppers. These shoppers were willing to follow the rules in order to prove that malls are indeed essential in the pursuit of happiness to a New Jersey resident. 

Or, perhaps it’s the tremendous sale from every store that may be a factor to that happiness.

Photos by Kenny Lo; Garden State Plaza Westfield Mall.