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The racks of pretty pastel prom dresses are a reminder of all that was not, and the thick Canada Goose jackets are suffocating to look at on a hot day.
At the end of the long hallway, there is darkness, and the Cineplex theatre entrance remains shuttered. Oddly, the smell of buttery popcorn lingers even though it has been months since a movie played there, making the observer wonder if the smell is real — seeped into the equipment, walls and rafters — or a trick of the mind.
It’s Friday and while the security doors are pulled across the Avalon Mall storefronts, the lights are on and retail staff are unpacking boxes. Mannequins are freshy dressed in their summer shorts and tops or flowery dresses and lightweight men’s suits.
Throughout the mall there are one directional signs, and warnings, such as if you are about to enter a corridor too narrow for social distancing.
Along with all the signs, decals are spread around the polished floors with instructions for safe passage through the modern COVID-19 world of shopping.
Most stores’ window displays are now past the time warp of winter they were left in when non-essential retail stores were ordered shut in March, and are ready for Alert Level 3 of the public health restrictions.
Instructions remain taped, though, to the windows for parcel delivery services that they still want their mail and packages, and who to call to leave the goods.
The mall wasn’t officially closed during the past three months — places deemed essential like electronic repair stores, Lawtons drugstore and Scotiabank — remained open.
Some seniors even turned up early each morning for their mall walk.
Come Monday, though, the mall will come to life again, while some things like theatres and gyms will remain closed.
Shoppers will notice big changes.
The food court is one-directional as well, and where there are tight spots — having been built in the 1960s, that’s unavoidable — there are instructions on queuing up for the various food outlets, where to stand and how to wait your turn.
Envy manager Katie Pinto and her staff were among those prepping stores Friday. They started the change up on Thursday.
“Everything happened pretty quickly,” she said.
“It was surreal. It was definitely strange. Everything was very dusty.”
The store was in the middle of prom sales when everything shut down — sales were brisk, while many dresses remain on the racks.
“Mothers and daughters were coming in. They were excited for their big day,” Pinto said, adding it was nice to see the virtual events on social media and how people passed dresses around.
Still, it’s a little sad so many had to miss the milestone.
Some dresses will be discounted, others saved for next year, depending on the style.
Depending on a store’s square footage, there will be maximum occupancies at any one time — Envy’s is 15 people, including employees, to allow for social distancing.
As well, if people try on clothes, the items will be sequestered for 48 hours before anyone else can access them.
Envy, an Atlantic Canada company, didn’t previously sell online, but had a popup, and Pinto said she feels customers will come back to bricks and mortar stores, especially to brands they love.
Avalon Mall general manager Donna VIncent said based on experiences elsewhere, it might be 30 per cent of the stores that open right away, but that could be higher.
“We’re slowly getting people letting us know what they think their hours will be,” she said.
Tim Hortons general manager Greg Pike was there Friday and said he’s waiting to see what happens next week before switching the lights on.
But he approves of what the mall has done with COVID-19 precautions.
“It looks great,” said Pike. “We’re excited to get back to normal.”
Shoppers should expect to see the Avalon Mall’s staff wearing masks and other personal protective equipment, Vincent said.
It’s up to shoppers and tenants what they do.
All the mall staff have been trained in COVID-19 protocols, and high touch areas, such as automated door buttons and escalator rails, will be cleaned frequently.
Exterior doors are labelled entrance or exit, and people need to adhere to those directions.
The food court, in addition to being one directional, has much of its seating cordoned off. There will be some areas where people can sit to eat, however.
Friday, the tables that will be accessible were marked with small green squares, but no chairs.
“We don't want people sitting at them on the weekend,” Vincent said.
Benches have been replaced with seats for one to still give people a break if they need it, and hand sanitizing devices are spread throughout the mall.
The elevators are restricted to two people, unless it’s your bubble.
For the first little while, people will see extra security and mall staff around to help them with the new directions.
In the parking lot, there’s been some spaces set aside for stores that have curbside pickup.
There won’t be any big mall sales event to draw people back, however.
“Not right now,” said Vincent, explaining that would be counter to the public health rules that seek to keep big gatherings down.
As for which stores are open, people should check the mall website and social media for updates to save them a trip if their destination store is not open or is operating on reduced hours.
“(As soon as Alert Level 3 was announced), a lot of our retailers reached out to us that day, when they could start getting ready,” Vincent said.
“After 53 years, customers are very good to the Avalon Mall. We want to do this right with all the protocols in place to do this as safely as possible.”