Health precautions in place as retailers reopen by appointment


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Retailers who have been closed for the last two months were finally allowed to open their doors Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it was business as usual.

At Leigh’s woman clothing boutique in Breton Village in Grand Rapids, customers came through the front door, signed in and took a pump of hand sanitizer from a bottle on a table. If a customer forgot their mask, the store provided one, as well as a pair of gloves.

Shoppers need to call ahead for an appointment, though they can usually call from the parking lot and walk right in. 

“Then as you go through the store, you’ll see other things that we’ve put in place,” Deb Clark, Leigh’s  merchandise manager and buyer, said.

Only 10 customers are allowed in the store at a time. The floors are marked the maintain at least a 6-foot distance.

“We are about a 13,000-square-foot selling space in the store, so we do have plenty of room for customers,” Clark said.

There is now built-in separation at the registers.

“You can see that we have sneeze guards in place,” Clark pointed out as she walked the sales floor. “And the other thing we’re really careful about is disinfecting.”

If something gets tried on, it gets steam-cleaned.

‘It’s set at 180 degrees, and that will kill any of the virus or bacteria or anything,” Clark said, showing off the industrial-sized steam cleaner. 

While it’s not the full-scale opening Leigh’s would like, at least the store is allowed to let customers in.

“This can’t go on forever,” Clark said. “We do have to get back to doing business with the store being open and with customers coming in, and that’s why we’re so excited this is finally happening.”

So began the first day nonessential retailers were allowed to open after an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut them down in March. She announced last week the reopening was imminent.

Some first-day shoppers said they just needed to get out of the house. But others like Marsha Bullian have real concerns about the impact of the closures on the economy. She was shopping to buy.  

“I’m really worried. I’m worried about our economy. I’m worried about the people who don’t have jobs,” Bullian said.

Von Maur, one of two remaining anchor stores at Woodland Mall in Kentwood, furloughed 85 employees while it was shut down. It was allowed to bring back eight for the limited reopening. One door on the east side of the store is opened. Customers need to check in and, like Leigh’s, a number of other precautions have been put in place.

“We have cleaning checklist that we’re doing morning and afternoon in every single department,” store manager Claire Espeset said. “We’re also requiring our associates to wear masks during store hours.”

Keeping the place clean is just one challenge for Von Maur. The other is getting the word out that it is open while Woodland Mall remains closed.

“Our mall entrance gets phenomenal traffic,” Espeset said. “So I think a lot of people just assume the whole mall is closed, so that could be hard in getting our traffic back up.”

When it comes to retailers surviving the pandemic shutdown, smaller may be better. Leigh’s has weathered the storm and Clark says a loyal customer base will make a difference in its recovery. 

“I think there is that … trust factor. It’s the fact they want us to survive and they’ll continue to support us,” Clark said.

Shoppers like Marsha Bullian are ready to jump in and help.

“They need our support,” she said. “I’m ready to shop.”



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