The lines that snaked outside Eastridge Center on its June 17 reopening and the influx of customers in subsequent days left no doubt that people are eager to shop at a mall again.
“We saw 55 percent pre-COVID [foot] traffic on day two, which is pretty impressive,” said Najla Kayyem, the senior VP of marketing for Pacific Retail Capital Partners, Eastridge’s parent company. “It shows the demand is there in the marketplace.”
Despite reopening with approximately half of its retailers—the next half should be reopening in the next week or two, per Kayyem—foot traffic has been brisk at Eastridge and at other major shopping centers in San Jose, including Santana Row.
Shops on Santana Row were allowed to reopen June 5, and restaurants have been serving patrons on outdoor patios for the same time period. As the director of operations for three restaurants on Santana Row—Meso, LB Steak and Left Bank Brasseries—Jacob Paronyan knew his eateries would have to put major safety and sanitation measures in place to put customers at ease and assure them a quality dining experience.
To that end, Left Bank and LB Steak—Meso will most likely open in the first or second week of July—are probably at the forefront of the restaurant revolution during the pandemic, providing a prime example of what safe dining looks like going forward.
Paronyan knew he had to rewrite the job description for all of his employees once he read the state and county public health guidelines in regards to outdoor dining at established restaurants. At Left Bank and LB Steak, employees are now classified into three distinct categories, marked by the color on their face masks.
Yellow indicates a no-contact employee who doesn’t take or give anything, in-bound/blue employees only bring things to the table but do not take anything from the table, and outbound/red employees are the only ones allowed to take anything from a guests’ table.
“So the idea is somebody who brings silverware to the table shouldn’t be taking plates from the table and then going over to another table and doing the same thing with the risk of cross-contamination,” Paronyan explained.
The same safety measures apply in the dishwashing room and guest services, as there is one person per shift who is designated for the cash transactions. This allows the designated employee to sanitize between every transaction and bring a bottle of sanitizer to each guest upon departing the restaurant.
Paronyan calls the new way of doing things “ninja service,” because everyone wears masks and has to do everything in a quick and efficient manner.
“This does mean more training and more expenses, but we had to take this seriously and make safety our top priority,” Paronyan said.
Similar safety measures have taken place at Eastridge, which has rolled out seven major points of emphasis to safeguard a customer’s shopping and dining experience. That includes utilizing the use of self-cleaning adhesive nano-septic skins, which have been implemented at high-volume checkpoints throughout the mall.
“Ultimately, the safety and health of our guests, employees and community members was the biggest priority to consider when reopening,” Kayyem said. “Our team at Eastridge has been working on these safety measures since April.”
Although Kayyem didn’t divulge sales numbers, she said foot traffic has been better than expected since the reopening. The same goes for Santana Row, even though dozens of retail stores have yet to open. Chere Sifflet, an assistant manager at men’s apparel store Travis Mathew, said people have flooded Santana Row on the weekends.
“Last weekend it was absolutely packed,” she said. “And the weekdays have been good, too, with the farmers market on Wednesday drawing a lot of traffic.”
Travis Mathew reopened on June 5, and Sifflet said the store’s loyal customers who had been ordering online for the last few months couldn’t wait to return for the in-store experience. Employees also celebrated being together again, albeit in different circumstances where physical distancing and face masks are now the norm.
“We have a check list and pictures in regards to what we need to do, what needs to be cleaned and how often they need to be cleaned,” Sifflet said.
Paronyan said interest in dining outdoors has been greater than he anticipated, but noted it’ll take three to four weeks to see if the recent surge was simply pent-up demand from customers being limited to takeout and delivery for a few months.
“It’ll be interesting to see what the trends are in the next few weeks,” Paronyan said. “Even though business has been better than expected for the reopen, it still doesn’t compare to our previous [pre-pandemic] numbers. Our revenue is anywhere from 35 to 40 percent to 50 percent on a good week to what we had at this same time last year.”