WAYNE, NJ – For three months, the doors of the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne have been closed and the grand halls, housing hundreds of stores, were dark and quiet. On Monday, with little fanfare, but great relief to many, the mall doors opened and the quiet halls filled with happy shoppers and even happier workers relieved to have their jobs back.
On a hot and humid day, the air-conditioned climate of the Willowbrook mall attracted many people who were happy to get out of the heat, out of their homes and do some shopping.
“I came to shop!” said an enthusiastic Maryann McClain-Davis who dragged her husband out to the mall with her. Did she miss shopping? “YES!!” she said loudly and with a huge smile on her face. McClain-Davis, a resident of South Orange, says she comes to the Willowbrook Mall at least twice a month. “I’m just glad to be here, and thank God the malls are opening up, and we’re getting back to normal.”
Shopping at Willowbrook is not completely back to normal. The mall is following state-mandated guidelines which includes limiting the number of shoppers in each store, masks are required, and social distancing measures are in place.
Even with these new regulations, there was a definite feeling of excitement in the air; and it wasn’t just the shoppers.
"We are very excited to be back in business," said Willowbrook General Manager Nancy Barbary. She was masked but you could see the smile in her eyes.
That same smile could be seen in the eyes of teenager Yostina Ghabras who was at the mall with her two friends, shopping in-person for the first time in months. The trio told TAPintoWayne that they “come to the mall all the time.”
Dragging quotes out of the shy girls took some encouragement: What do you think about the mall opening: “I Love it!” said Ghabras. What was life like without the mall? “It was depressing. Online shopping is pretty boring.” Where are they going to shop first: “The only store open is Forever 21, so we’re going there.”
“We’re here to have a watch fixed,” said Angela who was here with her husband Al. They are a retired couple from Montclair who come to the mall “once-in-a-while” to get out of the heat or to get some exercise, or “at Christmas time,” said Angela.
Patricia was waiting in line to get into a store called Zara. She was with her two daughters Miranda (10) and Gianna (8), both dressed in matching outfits. “I love the mall, because I love the makeup; I love the dresses,” said Gianna.
Miranda chimed in: “I love the gumballs!”
“Finally, after three months we needed this,” said Patricia. “Something to open our minds a little bit, to get out and to relax.” She added: “I miss shopping.”
A young lady, who said she had to remain anonymous because the corporate-owned store where she works would not allow her to speak with the press, told TAPintoWayne: “I enjoyed the time off for a while, but I got so bored and couldn’t wait to get back to work. Plus, I missed shopping, too!”
Enis Salci owns a food kiosk near Lord & Taylor called GfG (Greek from Greece) offering…you guessed it: Greek food served hot, fast and fresh. “We are excited,” said Salci who runs the kiosk with his family. “It’s been difficult for us over the last three months, but we are ready for the customers, and we will serve them and do our best.”
No indoor eating is allowed, but the food court is open, so shoppers must carry their food out to eat. "We’ve provided a large tent outside the food district entrance," said Barbary.
"We have new measures in place to help ensure the health and safety for all who enter the mall including: hand sanitizer stations, touch free doors and interactions, social distancing directions and frequent cleaning protocol," said Barbary.
With the Willowbrook Mall and many brick-and-mortar retailers throughout New Jersey closed, online shopping has boomed, grabbing an even larger market share. People’s shopping habits have changed, and it will be an uphill climb for many retail stores to get back to profitability, especially with continued restrictions and the threat of having to close again if there is a rebound in COVID-19 numbers.
Shopping local has a tremendous effect on local economies – See Story.
“Local businesses are vital to this community,” said Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano. “Now is not the time to buy things off the internet. Now is the time to get up, get into town and buy locally and support Wayne stores.”
This is especially true for the Willowbrook Mall which is Wayne’s biggest taxpayer and with all their stores combined, Wayne’s biggest employer.
With each new piece of the economy opening, it feels like we take one step closer to normal.
Mall hours are currently:
Monday – Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sundays 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
From the Willowbrook Mall’s website regarding your safety while shopping:
Following Governor Murphy's Order announcing the reopening of certain retail businesses, Willowbrook will reopen on Monday, June 29. The Mall will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.
New measures have been implemented to help ensure the health and safety for all who enter the Mall, including hand-sanitizing stations, touch-free interactions, frequent and intense cleanings and social distancing directions. We are working diligently to provide a safe, clean environment where people feel comfortable shopping, dining and enjoying their time.
As the state-wide dining restriction mandate remains in place, the food court seating area will remain closed. Food court tenants that choose to reopen will be available for carryout only.
The following amenities will be unavailable until further notice: valet services, play areas, stroller rentals, and mall-operated carousels
As we welcome guests back to the centers, we will ensure our properties look their best. We will monitor property occupancy to encourage social distancing. This may include the following:
- One point of entry, limiting number of guests within the center
- Social distancing floor graphics
- Limited gathering spaces, etc.
Additional hand sanitizer stations have been ordered for each property to supplement their existing inventory.
Food court seating and common area seating will be modified to meet mandated criteria for appropriate social distancing.
Sanitizing wipe stations have been ordered for each property with a food court to allow guests to wipe their table or chair if desired.
Play areas will be closed until it feels safe to re-open. Signage will be posted to inform guests of the closure.
Stroller rentals will be temporarily discontinued. Signage will be posted to inform guests
We will avoid large event activations in favor of small placemaking activities (such as an acoustic musician & singer) to create an enjoyable atmosphere.