Keeping Sarnia’s only indoor shopping mall viable during COVID-19 has had as many twists and turns as the pandemic itself, says property manager Laura Beecroft.
“It’s been really tricky to manage,” she said. “We’ve never closed fully.”
Lambton Mall has returned to near-normal operations after Sarnia-Lambton entered Stage 2 of reopening on June 19, and with the added bonus of two new anchor stores.
Early in the retail shutdown in March the mall kept its doors open for a handful of of tenants deemed essential.
“We reduced our hours, then reduced them even more,” said Beecroft.
Cell City continued to operate and Showcase began selling personal protection equipment and hand sanitizer, making it essential. A handful of others, like LensCrafters and Guerette Chiropractic, stayed open by appointment only.
“A lot of our outside businesses also stayed open, like Canadian Tire, RBC and Pet Valu. Each retailer is operating with its own guidelines and requirements,” said Beecroft.
A planned March grand opening of Marshall’s and HomeSense was delayed until May 27. The two stores have created about 100 full and part-time jobs, a bright spot in an otherwise tough employment period.
“It was a successful opening in very difficult times,” said Beecroft.
Lambton Mall has lost two long-time tenants, Peoples Jewellers and La Senza, which closed permanently during the pandemic.
“(COVID-19) has been devastating for retail,” said Beecroft. “We are trying to help our retailers get back on their feet and we’re optimistic things are turning around slowly. But we need the support of the community to shop local.”
She said about 75% of the mall’s 80 businesses, including hair salons, had reopened as of June 26, though most aren’t keeping the same hours as the mall, (9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays).
The mall has prepared by installing sanitizer at each entrance and removing most benches. Busy areas are cleaned more frequently, children’s rides are closed, and employees have personal protective equipment.
Floor markings throughout help shoppers keep the required two metres apart.
As the reopening continues, mall stores are making individual decisions on safety protocols and hours, Beecroft said.
The food court is closed for dining-in but delivery and takeout are available. Patrons can dine at an expanded outdoor patio at Chuck’s Roadhouse.
Six of 80 tenants are participating in the mall’s curbside pickup program, with designated parking spaces on either side of the mall.
“It’s been busy in here since Stage 2 started,” said Beecroft. “There are a lot of people coming in to shop.”
A few benches have been left in hallways to give seniors a place to rest, she added.
Cineplex at the mall’s north end remains closed.
For more info on individual stores, hours, and curbside pickup, visit www.lambtonmall.com.