The nation’s largest shopping mall reopens Wednesday after being closed for three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Michael Sedlacek, those were 12 very long weeks. At his Mall of America store — Worker B — Sedlacek sells a wide variety of honey plus skin care products made from honey and bee resin.
Worker B and more than 500 other retailers at the megamall were forced to close March 17 under an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz. Before locking up, Sedlacek took most of his inventory back to headquarters.
“We couldn’t leave the store completely empty and devoid of honey out of respect to the honeybees and the beekeepers involved. We did leave a couple of small jars of honey just to exist in the space while we were gone," he said.
Sedlacek has been busy restocking his honeycomb-shaped shelves and reconfiguring his store to keep customers and staff safe from the coronavirus. The free samples are gone. And staff will serve customers from a walk-up counter.
"We inherited large sliding glass windows that we can slide open directly to the mall," he said. "So we can interact in a very kind of casual and inviting way that we’re known for at the store, but still maintain distance.”
Outside Worker B, the mall is empty except for a few maintenance workers. Notably absent is the smell of food court deep fryers. And without the din of shoppers, the piped-in music seems louder.
In the Mall of America’s 28 years, it has never been closed this long. It could have resumed operations May 18, but reopening a megamall to upwards of 150,000 daily visitors isn’t as simple as turning a key. Executive vice president Jill Renslow said they needed another couple of weeks to do it right.
"We wanted to make sure that we had ample time to give our tenants to prepare for the reopening to bring their employees back to be able to run through new safety protocols to retrain and really prepare their stores," she said.
Many stores have added plexiglass barriers. Other big changes include floor stickers directing traffic flow and hand sanitizer dispensers around every corner. And those touch-screen kiosks that tell you how to get from the Cinnabon to the wedding chapel are now few and far between. Download the app instead.
Because of social distancing requirements, Mall of America managers are limiting the number of shoppers by about two-thirds. To accomplish this, they’re reducing the number of available parking spaces rather than counting people as they enter and exit.
The regulations also mean that the mall’s central attraction — the Nickelodeon Universe indoor amusement park — will remain closed for now.
Sarah Ingram of St. Paul is a longtime Mall of America fan. She says that for her, its reopening signifies a return to normal.
"I’ve gone since I was a little kid so it’s always something comforting to me," she said. "It sounds so funny that a mall would bring comfort to someone, but I would go on my days off. Or I go looking for something. Specifically my sister’s wedding is coming up and I haven’t been able to find anything online."
The reopening had been set for June 1, but was delayed an additional 10 days amid the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd.