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Mall Of America Reopens After 3 Months

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The nation's largest shopping mall reopens today after being closed for nearly three months because of the pandemic. The Mall of America, near Minneapolis, could have resumed business last month, but its managers took extra time to get this massive shopping and entertainment complex ready for a new era of socially distant shopping. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: It's been a long 12 weeks for Michael Sedlacek. At his Mall of America store called 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 here at this megamall were forced to close March 17 under an executive order from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. Before locking up, Sedlacek took most of his inventory back to headquarters.

MICHAEL SEDLACEK: We couldn't leave the store completely empty and void of honey. Out of respect to the (laughter) honeybees and the beekeepers involved, we did leave a couple of small jars of honey just to kind of exist in the space while we were gone.

SEPIC: 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.

SEDLACEK: We inherited large sliding glass windows that we can slide open directly to the mall. So we can interact in a very kind of casual and inviting way that we're kind of known for at the store but still maintain distance.

SEPIC: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCE MONKEY")

TONES AND I: (Singing) Dance for me. Dance for me. Dance for me - oh, oh.

SEPIC: 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 says they needed another couple of weeks to do it right.

JILL RENSLOW: 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.

SEPIC: Many stores have added plexiglass barriers. Other big changes include floor stickers directing traffic flow and hand sanitizer dispensers around every corner. And those touchscreen kiosks that tell you how to get from the Cinnabon to the wedding chapel are now few and far between. Download the app instead. Thirty-year-old Sarah Ingram of St. Paul is a longtime Mall of America fan and says, for her, its reopening signifies a return to normal.

SARAH INGRAM: I've gone since I was a little kid, so it's always something comforting to me. It sounds so funny that a mall would bring comfort to someone. But I would go, like, on my days off, or I go looking for something. And, specifically, my sister's wedding is coming up, and I haven't been able to find anything online.

SEPIC: The grand reopening had been set for June 1 but was delayed an additional 10 days amid the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. 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, an indoor amusement park complete with roller coaster, will remain closed for now.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIDNIGHTS FACES' "ALL AROUND YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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