Fashion Fair mall in Fresno, CA stores reopen for shopping

Chris Nsele was back at his job shining shoes inside Fashion Fair on Tuesday.

The face mask Nsele wore didn’t make him feel protected from COVID-19 as he held onto a man’s feet to clean some Air Jordan sneakers, but Nsele said he planned to keep working. He’s been without income since the popular Fresno mall closed in late March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As customers walked by his Shoe MGK kiosk (aka shoe magic, he added) – some wearing face masks, some not – Nsele said he was unclear whether the mall even required masks be worn.

Large standing signs inside the mall said “personal mask required,” along with maintaining six feet of social distance. But outside the mall’s main entrances, there were just a few 8.5 by 11-inch papers taped on doors below eye level listing California Department of Public Health guidelines, including “strongly recommend cloth face coverings.”

Brian Malony, senior marketing manager for the mall, said around noon Tuesday that not all the signs were up yet.

“I can’t really speak to how we’ll be enforcing that right now,” Malony said about Fashion Fair asking customers to wear masks while shopping. “At this point, the city has given us guidelines to wear masks inside of public areas, and so we’re going to do our best to make sure everybody has them.”

Chris Nsele of Shoe MGK cleans a customer’s shoes after opening in a kiosk at Fashion Fair Mall on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Nsele, like many other mall workers, returned to work for the first time since the mall closed late March due to the coronavirus pandemic. CRAIG KOHLRUSS [email protected]

Stores open at Fashion Fair

More than 100 people lined up outside various mall entrances on Tuesday morning, awaiting its reopening at 11 a.m. for in-person shopping. Curbside pickup and takeout dining is still continuing for numerous businesses inside Fashion Fair.

Malony said about 50 to 55 of the mall’s 140 businesses are now open. A list of what’s open will be posted on the mall’s website.

Most of the mall’s largest retailers and big chains – including Macy’s, JCPenny and Forever 21 – were still closed to in-person shopping Tuesday.

Customers file into the entrance at Fashion Fair mall when the doors opened on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, for the first time since late March due to the coronavirus pandemic. CRAIG KOHLRUSS [email protected]

A steady stream of shoppers walked through the mall in both directions Tuesday. Many wore face masks. Women leaned onto glass jewelry cases advertising big sales, and children grabbed counters selling pretzels and drinks.

Some businesses limited customers inside their shops to 10 or less. A few unhappy people outside the Apple store talked to employees through a glass door, eager to get inside the shop. Apple is still only providing curbside pickups and assistance outside Fashion Fair.

Coin machines selling candy and rides for kids on things like pretend trucks were still scattered throughout the mall, but a children’s play area near the food court appeared to be closed, along with the food court.

Customers walk through Fashion Fair Mall after the doors opened on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, for the first time since late March due to the coronavirus pandemic. CRAIG KOHLRUSS [email protected]

Social distancing at the mall

Malony said tables and chairs were spread apart in the food court to maintain social distance, and hand sanitizer stations are available around the mall. More information was shared last week about mall sanitation when Fashion Fair announced its planned reopening.

Malony said the mall has sophisticated technology that counts the number of shoppers, but didn’t have that number available yet about an hour after the mall reopened.

Malony said it’s following the city’s ordinance of one person allowed in every 50 square feet, approximately six feet of distance. He said Fashion Fair has a large interior, with walkways twice as large as a standard city sidewalk. He said the density inside would have to get “pretty extreme” for Fashion Fair to limit its number of customers allowed inside.

“That sort of density we don’t see unless it’s really strong peak times, like a couple weeks before Christmas,” Malony said. “So we’re pretty confident that we’ll be able to maintain that level of social distancing now as it is.”

A sign welcoming customers back to Fashion Fair mall displays guidelines for visiting, including wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and using hand sanitizing stations, on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. The mall opened for the first time since late March due to the coronavirus pandemic. CRAIG KOHLRUSS [email protected]

He said businesses are working to adjust and “find that new normal,” but that the mall is happy to reopen and help the local economy.

“Fashion Fair is ecstatic to be able to open our doors again,” he said. “We’re very thankful for our loyal customers.”

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and 11 first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.
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