Wearing masks on their face, Gainesville residents Ricky and Shelly Wourinen came to the Mall of Georgia on Monday to try and find Shelly a gift for her birthday, but they had limited options on where they could shop.

Although the mall reopened Monday after being closed for a month and a half because of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, Shelly’s favorite store, Bath and Body Works, was still closed. It was a similar situation with several other retailers at mall opting to remain closed.

“I was hoping at least a couple of the stores, like Bath and Body Works, (would be open), but everything’s all closed down,” Shelly Wuorinen said.

Simon Property Group, which owns the Mall of Georgia in Buford and Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville, reopened most of its malls in Georgia on Monday after being closed throughout late March and all of April because of the pandemic. But, while the malls were open, shoppers were not quick to embrace the opportunity to go shopping.

At the Mall of Georgia, for example, where there are thousands of parking spaces, there were only a few dozen cars in front of mall’s main entrance, with similar small scatterings of cars located at other entrances that were open, including entrances to anchor stores, such as Macy’s.

There were small clusters of shoppers to be found here and there in the mall, but not the throngs of crowds that would typically be seen at the Mall of Georgia.

“It’s a ghost town,” Ricky Wuorinen added.

Macy’s and Von Maur were open, but other anchors, such as JCPenny, remained closed. Dillard’s was closed on Monday, but the retailer said it planned to open its Mall of Georgia location on Tuesday.

Among the few businesses at the Mall of Georgia that were open Monday, many of them were food businesses, but there were some other retailers, such as jewelers and free standing booths located in the corridors of the mall, that were open.

“We were concerned about how many people would be around, and what the restrictions were,” Ricky Wuorinen said. “We were hoping a few more places would be open, but maybe eventually.”

He later said, “We’re kind of amazed by how few people there are. I figured there’d be more taking the opportunity to get our of the house and walk around.”

Mall officials directed questions about the first day back to their public relations firm, who in turn issued a statement from Simon Property Group John Rulli rather than local officials at the Mall of Georgia.

“The health, safety and well-being of those we serve will always be our highest priority, and we have developed a thorough and detailed set of protocols highlighting the exceptional measures we’ve implemented to safeguard shoppers, retailers and employees as we reopen,” Rulli said. “We also recognize that individuals and families in our communities are suffering significant hardship as a result of both COVID-19 and the economic shutdown, and we believe that reopening our properties will not only help people get back to work during these challenging times, but also enable us to use our properties to further support charitable initiatives.”

Simon officials said they were installing hand sanitizer stations throughout their malls; making face masks and hand sanitizer packets available to shoppers; enhancing sanitizer and cleaning efforts in high-touch areas; conducting pre-emptive health screenings of employees; installing signage promoting prevention methods recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and urging social distancing.

There were also signs on the floor directing flow of foot traffic in one-way aisles.

But, for Ricky and Shelly Wuorinen, even if many stores were closed, there was some value in coming to the mall on Monday. They said it was a nice break from staying inside for most of the last two months.

“It’s great to get out and get some fresh air,” Shelly Wuorinen said.

All Simon properties will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and noon until 6 p.m. on Sundays.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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