Customers, store staff must follow COVID-19 health guidelines
By Vanessa Soto
Shoppers who, after many weeks of hunkering down, have a hankering for some retail therapy finally got some when the Gilroy Premium Outlets reopened Friday, June 5. Implementing social distancing guidelines to keep people safe, stores are slowly welcoming customers back after being closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order.
Jane Howard, executive director of the California Welcome Center Gilroy based at the Outlets, said she is delighted to see shoppers strolling the sidewalks and visiting stores. For more than two months, she has come to her office and seen only security guards. The slow opening encourages her that local businesses will head back to normal.
“Last Friday we were ecstatic,” she said of the Outlets shops welcoming back visitors. “We opened the doors . . . and we are prepared, we are ready, we have plastic glass and sanitation and we’re just so excited to be part of this opening.”
About 10 people on June 9 stood in line in front of the Forever 21 clothing store waiting to enter for their shopping spree. Among them was Melissa De La Cruz from Morgan Hill who needed to buy back-to-work outfits.
“I bought three dresses, a dress cover, and a pair of shoes,” she said, adding that she enjoys shopping at the Outlets because parking is always available and near the stores.
Sofia Jaime, a customer stepping out of Forever 21, was also excited to be shopping at the Outlets again.
“I was happy to get out of the house,” she said, adding that she lost her job because of COVID-19 and the shopping at the Outlets made her feel better. “Everything’s here, and you get exercise and good sales.”
Among others shopping at the Outlets was Gilroy High School student Tiffani Ballin who visited with a group of teenage friends.
“It is a girl’s day out,” she said. “The Outlet stores have good prices and deals. It’s fun because I haven’t gone out.”
Ballin’s friend, Gilroy High School student Guadalupe Diaz, said she bought summer clothes that day.
San Benito High School student Tiany Godinez said she felt glad to find out the Outlets recently reopened. She drove from Hollister with her friends to stock up on back-to-school clothes.
“I was surprised, but also excited to come shopping,” she said.
Godinez and her friend, San Benito High School student Abbi Martin, bought matching Nike sliders sandals in the light pink color. Martin said shopping is a hobby for her because it helps her deal with the challenges of life. “It’s my stress reliever,” she said.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department amended its shelter-in-place order in early June to let more businesses reopen so long as they follow COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“The stores need to be in compliance with the guidelines in terms of square footage allocation,” Howard said. “For example, for every 200 square feet of your store or suite, you are allowed one customer. For our location (at the Visitors Center) we have 1,200 square feet open to the public, so we are allowed six customers at one time in.”
The Outlets are reopened with reduced hours: Mondays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays noon to 6 p.m. The lines for shoppers to enter stores are longer on the weekends. Fridays and Saturdays are usually the busiest days. The stores have six-feet demarcations on the sidewalk and compliance standards are taped on windows. All shoppers and staff must wear a mask in the stores. They are encouraged to use hand sanitizers.
Social distancing measures have also been placed in walkway areas outside the stores. Benches are wrapped with yellow caution tape which prohibit shoppers from sitting. The coin-operated rides for kids are also wrapped to prevent use. Only about ten percent of Outlets businesses opened the day the county let retail stores welcome shoppers again.
Nancy Kandhra, chief executive officer of Vape This Smoke That, feels both excited and scared at the same time now that the Outlets stores have been allowed to reopen.
“It’s definitely exciting because we were closed almost three months and to be open finally, it’s a great relief,” she said. “But it’s also kind of scary because people are coming from everywhere into our town, and the exposure rate to the coronavirus is way higher.”
Kandhra said the most popular item sold in her store is Cannabidiol, a CBD-based gummies product that helps with stress relief.
“We have our regular customers that are definitely feeling relief,” she said. “They are driving the distance and not everything is open. They also see the long lines to get into the stores. Now you have to wait your turn to just come in so there’s a little bit of frustration.”
Shoes are among the popular items Outlets shoppers seek. Among the customers coming through his doors, Sketchers store manager Hugo Andrade said, many are looking for slip-resistant work shoes. The store had a buy one pair of shoes get the second half off sale to encourage shoppers to seek a deal. The staff at Sketchers strictly implements the social distancing measures the county recommends.
“There are arrows to shop one way and employees have a checklist of what to clean,” Andrade said.
He recommends shoppers who haven’t been getting their retail therapy since the COVID-19 quarantine pay a visit to the Gilroy Premium Outlets for a few hours of relaxing fun with friends and family.
“Be patient. There will be a wait, but you will get what you want,” he said.