Trumbull’s Westfield Mall: ‘Welcome back, everyone’

TRUMBULL — For Lindsey Carley, Wednesday’s reopening of the Westfield Trumbull Mall came just in time.

“Someone needs a new bathing suit,” she said gesturing toward her 11-year-old daughter, Emma. The Carleys live on Canoe Brook Lake in Trumbull, and Emma has been looking forward to having a friend over on Thursday. “It’ll probably be too cold to swim, but they can play outside.”

Lindsey and Emma were two of a few dozen people waiting outside the mall’s entrances when security staff began unlocking the doors a few minutes before 11 a.m.

“Welcome back, everyone,” an employee said as he threw the doors open.

Inside, shoppers were greeted with gallon-sized bottles of hand sanitizer, arrows indicating which doors were for entry and which for exit, and floor stickers reminding shoppers to maintain social distance while waiting to enter stores.

These were all part of a plan detailed by Westfield Vice President of Shopping Center Management Patrick Madden in a conference call with Trumbull officials May 19. Madden said preparing the mall for reopening had in some ways been more challenging than opening a new shopping center.

“It’s kind of akin to a grand opening of a new mall, only we’re having to do this multiple times across the country at all of our malls,” he said.

In preparation for reopening, Madden said, workers had done a full cleaning and sanitization, including dismantling the mall’s interior fixtures and furniture. The mall, which will have reduced hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays, will undergo a full cleaning every night, Madden said. In addition, a specialized sanitizing crew would operate during the mall’s business hours, cleaning high-touch surfaces — like water fountains, elevator buttons, ATM screens and door handles — hourly.

Westfield also will use electronic monitoring to keep a count on the mall’s occupancy and limit the number of people inside to 50 percent of capacity. Madden said the mall’s rated capacity — think Black Friday — was high enough that he did not think there would be a need to limit entry.

“But we have the ability and the plan,” he said.

In the mall’s initial reopening, many shoppers also found the stores they had hoped to visit closed.

Jennifer Sortini, who made the drive from Bethany to be at the mall when it opened, waited outside Gamestop.

Video game sales soared during the social quarantine period, with market research company NDP Group reporting a 34 percent jump in game sales from March 2019 to March 2020 and a 63 percent increase in sales of game systems in the same time period.

But those who like to browse games, or trade in old games toward new ones, were out of luck when malls closed and stores like Gamestop were deemed non-essential. That made May 20 the first time some gamers were able to check out new entertainment.

“Their website says they’ll be open today,” Sortini said as the store remained closed a half hour after the mall opened.

The inconsistent schedules of the mall’s retail outlets was another possibility Madden had anticipated. He said he expected about half the mall’s stores to open May 20, with that number gradually increasing over the coming days and weeks as stores bring back staff and stock up on the protective equipment all mall employees and customers are required to wear.

After the large shopping centers, the most anticipated reopenings were restaurants, which were allowed to open outdoor seating areas. Though many restaurants had remained open for takeout during the coronavirus lockdown, May 20 was the first time since March that they could welcome back seated diners.

“We did pretty well during the lockdown,” said Dave White, executive chef of Bianco Rosso in Trumbull Center. He said the restaurant’s regulars had maintained their support, using curbside pickup options and delivery services.

Wednesday afternoon, he was preparing for the restaurant’s first dinner service in two months, noting that the reservation book for reopening night was filling up.

“For a Wednesday, it’s pretty good,” he said. “But it almost doesn’t matter what day it is. With people working from home, the day of the week means nothing anymore.”

Like many Trumbull restaurants, Bianco Rosso had expanded its outdoor seating area. This is especially important since the outdoor dining rules mandate continued social distancing, he said. Bianco Rosso’s outdoor patio normally features 26 tables. Now it is limited to eight, although White said the restaurant had added a few more tables by closing off part of its adjacent driveway.

Diners returning to their favorite eatery will notice some changes. The service staff, for example, will all be wearing masks and gloves. And while sipping pinot noir and eating steak au poivre through a mask may be out of the question, diners will still be asked to wear a mask when they arrive and leave, and while in common areas of the restaurant.

They also should mask up when ordering or when interacting with staff, White said.

“It’s going to be a change, like when the server used to seat you, then come around with water, and like that,” he said. “Now we’ll have the wait staff at their assigned stations, and they’ll stay there until you motion them over.”

The staff themselves were thankful to get back to their jobs, too, he said. With evening temperatures expected to drop into the low 50s, though, they may want to bundle up for their return to work.

“It’s not going to be too warm tonight,” White said. “But I think the people who have been home for two months that can finally have dinner out, I think they’ll come wrapped in a blanket if they have to.”