May 04

Major Houston-area malls will reopen today

PlazAmericas, Houston Premium Outlets, Katy Mills and Galleria are ready for patrons

Nine Houston-area malls are planning to reopen in early May after being closed for more than a month to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Galleria, Houston Premium Outlets, Katy Mills and PlazAmericas malls are set to reopen Friday while Baybrook, Deerbrook, First Colony, Willowbrook and The Woodlands malls are set to re-open on Tuesday. Most of the malls will be open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. PlazAmericas Mall will be open daily from noon until 7 p.m.

Memorial City Mall on Thursday said it is still getting ready to reopen and did not disclose its time frame. In the meantime, the west Houston mall said some of its restaurant tenants with exterior entrances will reopen Friday with limited seating, and staff will continue to facilitate curbside pickup for its retail tenants.

Malls are starting to reopen Friday after Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans Monday to restart the state economy, approving all retailers to reopen May 1 provided they limit occupancy to 25 percent of shopper capacity to maintain social distancing. Malls have been temporarily closed since Mid-March to slow the spread of the virus.

Shoppers who venture out to malls in May will see new health and safety measures aimed at making visitors feel safe and comfortable while shopping and dining.

Simon Property Group, which owns the Galleria, Houston Premium Outlets and Katy Mills malls, said it will require employees and vendors wear face masks, take their temperature before coming to work and keep 6 feet of distance from co-workers and shoppers whenever possible.

Shoppers also will be encouraged to take their temperature at home or at free temperature-check stations at the mall, which will use no-touch, infrared thermometers. Malls will provide free face masks and sanitizing wipe packets to shoppers by request, and hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the malls.

Visitors will be reminded to maintain social distancing through signs, audio announcements and directions from mall staff. Common area and food court seating will be limited and spaced out, and every other sink and urinal will be taped off in bathrooms. In additions, reusable trays, utensils and cups will be banned, and play areas, water fountains and stroller and valet stations will be temporarily closed.

Simon malls will limit the number of open entrances while putting in place social distancing measures for any lines that may form outside the malls. The malls will use existing technology to ensure occupancy levels do not exceed 1 person per 50 square feet.

In addition, Simon said common areas will be sanitized and disinfected throughout the day and every night, with particular emphasis on high-touch areas such as restrooms, handrails, trash bins, door knobs and seating areas.

Brookfield Properties, which owns the five suburban Houston malls opening Tuesday, said it will have hand sanitizing stations, social distancing directions and frequent and intense cleanings. Food court seating areas will remain closed, and restaurants that choose to reopen will be available for carryout only.

“The safety and well-being of our retail partners and shoppers is of the utmost importance,” Brookfield spokeswoman Rachel Wille said in an email. “As our centers prepare for this ‘new normal,’ we are thankful for the opportunity to reopen our doors and look forward to welcoming guests back into our properties.”

Baker Katz, the Houston real estate firm that owns PlazAmericas in Sharpstown, has postponed all nonessential maintenance to focus on cleaning and preparing the mall for customers Friday. Mall employees will be disinfecting doors, handrails, benches, chairs, tables and other high touch point items. Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the mall and signs will encourage people to maintain distance. The food court will have social distancing markers and trays will be removed.

Kenneth Katz, a cofounder of Baker Katz, said the community seemed excited for the mall to reopen but added he believes business will be slow to ramp back up.

“I don’t think we’re under any illusions people are going to come out of the gates screaming in terms of sales volume,” Katz said.

Houston Chronicle •
Paul Takahashi and Nancy Sarnoff
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