CORONAVIRUS

Corridor businesses reopen with new rules

Retailers trust public to obey, but police do act

The Lindale Mall, with a nearly empty parking lot March 24, reopens Wednesday with reduced hours and restrictions. Retai
The Lindale Mall, with a nearly empty parking lot March 24, reopens Wednesday with reduced hours and restrictions. Retailers with outside entrances have been allowed to remain open for delivery and curbside pickup. But in late March the enclosed mall was ordered closed along with others like it. Malls in the Corridor were allowed to reopen with caveats starting May 8. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

As she allows more and more businesses to reopen, Gov. Kim Reynolds says that “Iowans have been incredibly responsible” in adhering to social distancing requirements, group size limitations and other guidelines for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Now with malls, campgrounds and retail stores — and perhaps other businesses soon — taking steps to reopen, the Corridor faces its biggest test yet: Will it be that personal responsibility, or instead police intervention, that persuades people to adhere to the rules that remain?

Cedar Rapids public safety spokesperson Greg Buelow said city police officers have conducted “more than 1,000 business checks” since the governor issued public health emergency proclamations shutting down or placing strict rules on merchants.

A majority of the businesses have been in compliance, he said, “and are trying to do the right thing for their employees and their customers.” Some have received warnings before becoming compliant. Some have needed more.

Tuesday, Cedar Rapids police cited Jason Bailey, 49 — owner of Custom Fitness at 3950 Wilson Avenue SW — for a health violation after police received several complaints he was violating an order that gym use be limited to one client at a time and by appointment only.

Police allege Bailey allowed multiple clients to work out in the gym at the same time and admitted he was ignoring the governor’s restrictions.

He is one of nine people the city has cited with the simple misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $625.

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As much larger attractions open — like Coral Ridge Mall last Saturday and Lindale Mall on Wednesday — it’s likely to be employees and the public, not police, who enforce the social distancing and crowd restrictions that accompany the new permissions.

Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids temporarily closed near the end of March, but stores and restaurants with entrances independent of the mall were allowed to remain open for curbside service or carryout.

Reynolds’ latest easing of restrictions on certain businesses within the 22 counties hardest hit by COVID-19 means malls and retailers here can begin reopening, but still must meet requirements like keeping the customer count to no more than half capacity and ensuring shoppers practice social distancing.

Becky Eckley, general manager of the Lindale Mall, said the mall will reopen with reduced hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. She said it’s likely the opening of individual retailers in the mall will vary, and she recommends calling the store or checking the mall’s Instagram and Facebook pages for up-to-date information.

With the reopening comes a newly expanded “code of conduct,” Eckley said, that will be in effect for the foreseeable future. It calls for social distancing, recommends shoppers wear a “cloth face covering,” asks that shoppers not move tables and chairs in the food court dining area and requires shoppers to adhere to protocols set out by the mall’s retailers.

In Coralville, Coral Ridge Mall reopened Saturday, according to General Manager Monica Nadeau, though most businesses inside chose to remain closed.

Of the nearly 100 businesses in the mall, Nadeau said, roughly 25 opened. The others, she said, are planning to open but still are working out the logistics of how to do so safely.

Those returning to shop at the mall may find its common areas look a little different.

“Our food court seating is closed,” she said. “The restaurants are open, but it is carry out only. We have also removed the common area’s benches and couches, and we have closed off every other sink in the restrooms to provide for social distancing.”

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Additionally, she said, hand sanitizer is available at every entrance and the mall has “increased (its) frequency and intensity of sanitizing and cleaning, especially the high-touch areas like the restrooms.”

But when it comes to adhering to the governor’s 50-percent capacity rule and enforcing social distancing among its shoppers, Eckley and Nadeau said the responsibility falls on the individual businesses.

“So far what I’ve seen is the stores that are reopening, they each have a plan in place and they are setting up to follow those restrictions,” Nadeau said. “For example, Zumiez reopened this weekend and they have calculated that they can have no more than 10 people in the store at one time, so they have a sign up and somebody at the entrance monitoring that. Other stores have set up queuing lines outside of their stores, so if they get to capacity, customers can line up to enter.”

“The enforcement of this is up to the retailers,” said Kristie Wetjen, general manager at Outlets Williamsburg. “We expect many (retailers) will have a staff member stationed at the door to monitor this as customer traffic increases. Ultimately, as the center management team, we monitor activity in the common areas and the tenants will take care of what happens within their stores.”

A few retailers at Williamsburg Outlets reopened Saturday, Wetjen said, and more are expected to open this weekend and in the weeks that follow.

Buelow, the Cedar Rapids public safety spokesperson, said the police department has fielded many calls over the last few weeks about social distancing concerns. In many cases, he said, officers have focused on educating those who may be violating the emergency proclamation and the individuals have willingly dispersed.

“This is not a law enforcement issue — this is a public health emergency and members of the public need to heed the warning, advice, and direction of our public health officials and their expertise,” Buelow said. “By following public health guidelines, we reduce community spread. The responsibility has to be on individuals and business owners to do the right thing not because there is a proclamation — because it is the right thing for their own health and health of others.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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