Two months after temporarily closing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakwood Mall will reopen for business on Wednesday.
Things will look and feel different when the Chippewa Valley’s largest retail entity reopens, with plentiful hand-sanitizing stations, social distancing directions, touch-free interactions and frequent and intense cleanings, the mall said Monday in a statement.
“We are working diligently to provide a safe, clean environment where people feel comfortable shopping, dining and enjoying their time,” the statement said.
The mall, which will resume operations with reduced hours, will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
“The safety and well-being of our retail partners and shoppers is of the utmost importance,” Oakwood Mall general manager Betsy Maher said. “As Oakwood Mall prepares for this ‘new normal,’ we are thankful for the opportunity to reopen our doors and look forward to welcoming guests back into the shopping center.”
Commerce already has returned to the shopping center, as three of its four anchor stores are once again welcoming customers.
That includes HOM Furniture, which opened May 2 at its new location in the 105,255-square-foot former Younkers store on the east end of Oakwood Mall. HOM previously operated a store at 2921 Mall Drive.
Hobby Lobby, which is located at the opposite end of the mall, reopened Saturday, and Scheels has been open for a few weeks after a hiatus of about four weeks.
All of the anchors are taking steps to limit the volume of customers in the stores at one time.
As for HOM, which closed for new coronavirus concerns in late March within a day of when its new store originally was scheduled to open, CEO Rod Johansen expressed confidence that customers will enjoy a safe shopping experience.
“Our store is good-sized, so there’s plenty of room for people to roam,” Johansen said. “We’re probably one of the safest places you can go.”
While walk-in customers are welcome, the furniture retailer also has begun offering personal appointments with sales representatives at the store, on the phone and online to help control the amount of traffic on the sales floor.
“We’re trying to meet people’s needs and make it a lot easier for customers to do business with us, and that’s been very well received,” Johansen said.
The store also has enhanced its cleaning standards, made hand sanitizer available around the sales floor and required all employees to wear face masks among other steps to ensure a safe environment.
“I think everybody can’t wait for the day when we can go back and start doing things the way we used to,” Johansen said. “We’d just as soon have our staff looking at customers with their smiling faces instead of from behind a mask.”
While mall traffic isn’t essential to HOM’s success, he said he looks forward to the rest of the mall opening so more Chippewa Valley residents will get a glimpse of the new store’s contemporary design and realize it is open.
Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, said Monday that the local order that took effect after the state Supreme Court last week struck down the extension of Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order is the same for all businesses in Eau Claire County except those with prolonged close contact with clients.
“We are working as questions come in and working proactively to get information out to all operators of retail and other stores to make sure they understand the order and have the resources needed to open,” Giese said. “Places like Oakwood Mall and other retail operations not yet open have definitely been in contact with us, and we’re working with them on best practices and advice.”
The Health Department, which Giese said is allowing businesses to pursue creative solutions for following the order, has indicated the intent of the order is to provide a framework in which businesses can be open and community members can resume some normal activities, while protecting the community from the spread of the virus.
Among other restrictions, the local order mandates that businesses comply with physical distancing requirements of 6 feet between all individuals on the premises unless they are from the same household, allot 144 square feet of space per household unit and restrict the number of on-site workers to no more than necessary to perform operations.
As directed in the local order, retail and dining tenants that choose to open at Oakwood Mall will be expected to follow the guidelines published by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the mall said in the statement. The most up-to-date list of open retailers and restaurants at Oakwood will be available on the mall’s website at www.oakwoodmall.com.
Hobby Lobby has reduced its store hours to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the first hour of each day reserved for elderly and high-risk shoppers.
The store also has designated separate entrance and exit doors to limit contact among customers, ramped up cleaning protocols and set a limit of 208 customers in the store at one time, said store manager Mandy Green.
Hobby Lobby is operating at a reduced staffing level and will bring back more employees as sales return to normal, Green said.
Meanwhile, Best Buy, which early in the COVID-19 crisis offered curbside pickup, recently added shopping by personal appointment, with a limit of five customers permitted in the store at one time.
Several other major retailers in Eau Claire, including Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx and JCPenney, remain closed.
Reporter Sarah Seifert contributed to this story.