Rose Rich sipped a cool drink as she shared a bench out of the sun at The Shops at Wiregrass.
Her 19-year-old grandson, Chandler Estes, and Estes’ girlfriend, 18-year-old Jayda Warchesik, were on a visit from Texas.
“We’re out for an adventure,” Rich said.
Estes and Warchesik hoped to find bathing suits for a trip to the beach, but were out of luck. They found few shops open.
The trio was among the first customers to explore Pasco County malls after weeks of homebound isolation and shuttered shops.
Effective May 4, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the all-clear to at least some commercial activity to get the economy reopened amid the ongoing coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Mall operators, business owners and customers moved cautiously into uncharted territory. Many stores remained closed during the first days of lifted restrictions. Crowds of shoppers didn’t materialize.
But, as additional stores open, and with a weekend approaching, more shoppers were anticipated.
“We expected to have a slow opening, said Greg Lenners, general manager for The Shops at Wiregrass. “Various stores have their own protocols for ramping up. We’re off to a good start with the number of stores open.”
He estimated about one-quarter of Wiregrass shops had opened, evenly split among restaurants and retail.
Even during the shutdown, restaurants stayed open for takeout orders, with curbside pickup, Lenners said.
Wiregrass is following safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect customers and employees. The guidance includes extra sanitizing stations and closed-off play areas.
Tampa Premium Outlets and Cypress Creek Town Center also slowly opened a few previously closed shops. They also followed CDC guidelines.
Cypress Creek Town Center even has a new tenant, Aussie Grill, a free-standing restaurant on Sierra Center Boulevard.
A press release announced that the restaurant would offer limited indoor seating, drive-through, pickup and delivery.
Meanwhile, just outside AtHome at Tampa Premium Outlets, Jerry Cugno struggled to move a cache of large wall art from a shopping cart into the back seat and trunk of his car.
He wore a face mask and carried sanitizer in his pocket.
He picked up the art trove for his Lakeland-based spas. Cugno owns a chain of spas with more than 30 locations in Florida, and one in Denver, Colorado.
“I’m so happy, I can’t believe it,” Cugno said.
Many, but not all, of the services at his spas still remain off-limits during the first phase of Florida’s reopening.
But, people are ready to go back to work, he said.
He agrees with that sentiment: “Let them do their jobs,” he said.
Clusters of cars filled the outlet mall’s parking lots. And, a few families and young couples strolled down pathways looking for open stores.
Shelly Stecklow successfully returned an item she bought before shops closed.
She enjoyed the chance to visit stores other than Walmart and Sam’s Clubs, which had stayed open.
“It’s just being out and about,” she said.
“I think as long as people are aware of their environment and abide by what they are told to do, it’s OK,” she said.
Most stores remained closed, but a few doors were open, including Haagen Dazs, Pop Cult, Finish Line and Elite Home Room Games.
An employee posted a notice on the door at Express Men listing a May 8 opening.
Representatives for the outlet mall and its owner, Simon Property Group, could not be reached for comment.
In a news release, Simon President John Rulli said, “We look forward to serving the needs of our communities, and (to) do so in a safe and responsible manner.”
Owner Jennifer Morales opened her shop, Sparks Jewelers, on the first day allowed.
She hadn’t seen many customers by midday and many who walked in said they were just looking for an open shop.
Morales and an employee wore face masks. A sign taped to the door gave notice that customers also should wear masks.
The shutdown has been hard.
“We’re a small business,” said Morales, who has been at the outlet mall about two years. “If we don’t open, we don’t generate sales. We depend on foot traffic.”
She is hopeful, though, that business will pick up — safely, and soon.
Published May 13, 2020
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