LIVINGSTON, NJ — Since Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order allowing indoor portions of retail shopping malls to reopen officially went into effect on June 29 with social-distancing and mask requirements in place as well as a 50-percent capacity limit, many Livingston residents have taken advantage of this latest freedom by flocking to stores at both the Livingston Mall and the Short Hills Mall.

The reopening of the Livingston Mall and other indoor retail businesses comes shortly after the June 22 reopening of barbershops, salons and spas, which have also been attracting many customers over the last three weeks.

"Malls are part of New Jersey culture and lure," Murphy said of his decision to allow the reopening. "We want these businesses to get back up and running responsibly and safely. If you head out to the mall, please comply with the requirements in place...Let's keep this restart going."

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Although Murphy has indefinitely postponed the reopening of indoor dining—citing an increase in COVID-19 cases nationwide as well as "knucklehead" behavior recently seen at New Jersey restaurants and bars where patrons were not wearing face coverings nor following social-distancing protocols—the public feedback on indoor shopping has been generally positive since the reopening of these establishments.

While shopping at the Livingston Mall, resident Meredith White said she was surprised to see some big-name stores Lord ‘n Taylor, Victoria’s Secret, Yankee Candle, Bath and Body Works and others still closed, but was pleased with the sales being offered at Old Navy and elsewhere as well as with her overall shopping experience.

“Everyone was social distancing; there were signs on the floor to walk one way and then everyone to leave the other way; everyone was wearing masks; [and] there were anti-bacterial stations throughout the mall as well as in the stores that I went into,” said Livingston resident Meredith White, adding that the kiddy rides and play areas were roped off and that there were “no kiosk shops in the middle of the mall like normal.”

Another shopper from Livingston, who was shopping for summer shorts but wished to remain anonymous, stated that it “felt so great just to be able to shop in person again.”

“Just looking through the clothing racks brought me such joy,” she said. “Other than Lord ‘n Taylor being closed, my mall day was an A-plus.”

Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez was also enthusiastic about the governor's decision to reopen such businesses, as the township council has been focused on helping local businesses financially after the recent lockdowns and encouraging residents to shop and dine locally.

“Friends and family who have gone to both the Livingston Mall and the Short Hills Mall have told me that there are a number of stores that have not been opened yet but that they have felt safe in the stores that were open and thought the stores were handling the way they were supposed to,” he said. “The entire council has thought it important to support local businesses as much as possible, and that’s why we included in our budget $125,000 in COVID-19 relief to assist them in getting ready for reopening—for people coming into their stores, for protective equipment for staff, any acrylic separation that might be needed.

“We have also relaxed our zoning and permitting rules and are waving fees to allow them conduct business outdoors, and we’re doing everything we can to encourage people to shop and eat locally. We want to assist them in any way that we can while also recognizing that it continues to be very difficult for businesses to operate right now.”

Fernandez also acknowledged the delay in reopening indoor dining, expressing confidence that the governor is making decisions in the best interest of New Jersey residents and reiterating that outdoor dining continues to expand throughout the state and that other businesses—including fitness studios—have also been able to operate outdoors.

“When people are inside, there’s more of a risk of transmission with air flow—so while it is a blow to local businesses, I think from a public health perspective, [the governor] is looking at the numbers, he’s looking at the science, and he’s making the best decisions best upon that,” the mayor said. “While we wish everything was open, we have to accept the reality that we’re still fighting a pandemic, and the last thing we want to do is create an upsurge that makes this last longer. I think being safer now is certainly better.”

In conjunction with its reopening, the Livingston Mall announced a comprehensive COVID-19 Exposure Control Policy that was developed with the help of leading experts in the fields of Epidemiology and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) “in order to deliver an elevated set of safety standards at the property.” According to Livingston Mall General Manager Stephen Croner, these enhanced safety protocols have been communicated to all mall tenants, who are expected to adhere to the same rigorous policies in their tenant spaces.

The property has also joined forces with local non-profit organizations to support initiatives aimed at assisting those in the community experiencing hardship as a result of COVID-19. According to Croner, this will include hosting food banks, clothing donations, COVID-19 mobile testing and blood drives as part of an outreach to health providers, government agencies and non-profits.

"The health, safety and well-being of the community 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 for shoppers, retailers and employees as we reopen,” said Croner. “We also recognize that individuals and families in our community are suffering significant hardship as a result of both COVID-19 and the economic shutdown, and we believe that reopening our property will not only help people get back to work during these challenging times, but also enable us to use our property to further support charitable initiatives…

“Our property is an integral part of our community not only in terms of shopping, dining and entertainment, but also job creation, small business growth and community support. We look forward to once again serving the needs of our community, and doing so in a safe and responsible manner.”

Livingston Mall’s COVID-19 Exposure Control Policy can be viewed in its entirety BY CLICKING HERE.

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