If you think your favorite store at the Oaks Mall in Gainesville was ready for business as of the May 8th re-opening, check before you make the drive by calling or reviewing the list of open stores and restaurants here. https://www.theoaksmall.com/en/directory/
Of the 112 stores listed in the directory as of May 10th, at least 70 remained closed and of the 17 restaurants and food court occupants, at least nine were dark and empty with gates up.
After a two-hour visit to the shopping center on the first open Saturday since the March shutdown and the day before Mother’s Day, here’s a look at what shopping there is like during a pandemic.
If you enter the Oaks Mall at the main front entrance you will be greeted by a friendly security guard standing near a station with a notepad, hand sanitizer and a box of face masks which he will offer up if you need one.
It is unclear whether the ordinance by Alachua County requiring face masks in retail stores is being enforced in the common areas outside of specific stores as a majority of customers were wearing face coverings as they traveled between shops but some had none at all, and others were wearing masks under their chins and not over their faces. There was enough room in most circumstances to veer away from shoppers choosing not to wear face masks if you wanted to.
If you have underlying health concerns or are caretakers of elder family members, just know that not only in the common mall walkways but inside larger stores, fellow customers may or may not be covering their faces as you pass them in the aisles.
All of the stores had clear signage in the front entrances and in the windows detailing the expectations of customers. Those details included the number of customers allowed in each store and specific instructions on whether to follow arrows, no mask no entry, and many signs had warm greetings such as “Hello beautiful…So nice to see you! Please come in, we are open.”
If you enter the mall through the only anchor store open, Belk, you will either be greeted outside by a staff member welcoming you and counting you as one of the 200 allowed under the 25 percent capacity rule or a staff member right inside standing near a table with hand sanitizer and a counter. The tally kept of customers is taken on an iPad and linked to the other entrances including the doorway from the common mall area.
These staff members are wearing face masks and gloves and seem happy to see customers head into the store.
It’s important to know that Belk does not have open changing rooms currently, and that no clothes or shoes can be tried on. Makeup counter merchandise is wrapped up tight and out of reach.
There are blue circles with foot prints near the cash registers that, “Thank you for practicing social distancing.”
And signs throughout the store that read, “Your safety is our highest priority! We’re temporarily suspending customer ability to try on merchandise.”
However, several people were trying on shoes despite the signage.
The up escalator is working and fellow customers wait their turn to step on maintaining the recommended 6-foot distancing standard and many choose not to touch the rails on their way up. The down escalator is under repair, so a journey on an elevator or stairway is required, so note that if you need to avoid sharing those tighter areas with others.
As you navigate the mall you will see at least two maintenance staff members wearing face masks while pushing bright yellow fully stocked cleaning carts.
There is one main shop that sells anti-bacterial hand soaps and there is a large of display of it near the front of the shop. However, that shop remains closed for now with a bright sign near the entrance that reads, “Spread Love Not Germs.”
A security guard on a Segway travels inside and outside of the mall wearing a mask and gloves while inside and gloves while outside.
The mall has taped off the playground area, the stroller rentals, coin operated massage chairs and the video games such as Halo, although the gumball station remained unwrapped.
Most shoe stores are allowing customers to try on shoes. Benches have been removed in some and no one is enforcing that a nylon sock is required to be worn during a fitting.
In the food court, dozens of tables are corralled and off limits as the tables are placed six feet apart. Dozens of diners were in line or at tables eating, mostly keeping recommended distances. Chik-fil-A has a drive-thru option outside on the east side of the mall with pick up at the back door to the food court employee exit.
If you visit the mall during this pandemic, you will pass by all ages of shoppers from senior citizens to unmasked children and even unprotected newborns just days old. And while no one seems to be enforcing the face mask ordinance in the common areas or in the larger stores after people enter and disperse, remember you will be passing by and coming close to many vulnerable population shoppers who may or may not be wearing face masks even though they are offered at the door.
According to the Oaks Mall website, “If face coverings are required by government regulations, security officers will deny access to customers who refuse to wear face coverings.” This may or may not be true if you visit, as several groups of shoppers from all ages chose not to comply. See the complete list of precautions that the mall parent company Brookfield Properties has outlined here.
The Oaks Mall is open Monday through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m and on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.