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L.A. shopping malls reopen. The feel is more ghost town than Black Friday

Black Friday it was not as Southern California malls and shopping centers opened to small crowds and strict social distancing rules aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Los Angeles County this week allowed many retailers and malls to reopen their doors, but customers so far have been slow to return. And many stores remained closed as well.

The scene underscored that it is going to take some time for the economy to restart even as stay-at-home orders are eased.

Only 25 of the 130 stores at Citadel Outlets in Commerce opened their doors Thursday in a mellow first step back for the Assyrian-style icon alongside the 5 Freeway.

The parking structure was almost empty and the scattered crowds left plenty of room for people to maintain more than the recommended six feet of separation. Almost everyone — adults and children — wore masks.

Short lines appeared at several storefronts, but wait times seldom exceeded 10 minutes.

Citadel general manager David Blagg said the decision whether to open was left up to individual tenants, generally national chains that were making determinations about reopening on a regional scale.

Blagg said no tenants had notified him that they did not intend to reopen, while several said they were taking time to work out procedures for handling customer spacing. Others told him they were taking the time to get staff lined up, he said.

Blagg said he was expecting more stores to open over the weekend.

Candace Tripp, manager at Lucky Brand Outlet, was allowing 10 people at a time into the small clothing store.

Because customers could not try garments on before buying, the return period had been extended from 30 to 60 days and prepaid labels were provided to return by mail, borrowing the practice for online buying.

The lack of choice was a disappointment for Octavio Acevedo and his daughter Dana who waited in line outside Papaya, but Acevedo conceded, “It’s better to be here than home.”

They got in after a wait of about 10 minutes. Dana left with a dress and a sweater.

For Manny Deluna and his family, who were sitting on a bench, the shopping was beside the point.

“I only came here to walk,” he said.

Unlike those who came to browse, Mariah Villock of Los Angeles came to find summer clothes at Old Navy. She knew it would be open. “You gotta look online. I saw that it was open.”

Christine Parsons, 29, drove to the Glendale Galleria first on Thursday morning. The night before she received an alert that the mall was reopening.

As she walked through the mainly gated mall, she clutched a bag with products to return to Pacsun that she had held onto for 30 days. But to her dismay, Parsons was turned away by locked doors, clothing scattered across the ground and a note taped to the window — a reality seen at many stores throughout the mall.

“I don’t understand how this store is closed, but the stores across the hall are open,” Parsons said. “What’s the deterrent of some stores choosing to stay closed? ... Everyone else is out, so it doesn’t make any sense why some are open and some aren’t.”

Flavio Astoria, an entrepreneur from East Hollywood, brought his family to the mall to enjoy their day off.

He had little luck finding an open store, taking laps around the mostly closed corridor leading to Bloomingdale’s. Regardless, he wanted to go out to get a better understanding of the current retail scene.

“I feel safe following the CDC’s guidelines. The world’s got to keep moving forward. We can’t be stagnant. We’ve got to take it a few days at a time and follow the recommended safety precautions,” Astoria said.

L.A. County officials this week said churches and many retail businesses could reopen with strict social distancing rules. And there is hope L.A. County could soon join surrounding areas in allowing limited in-person dining at restaurants.

But health officials have stressed that with the easing of stay-at-home orders comes potential dangers. Preventing new outbreaks depends on people wearing masks, avoiding crowded spaces and keeping at least six feet apart.

All retail establishments, including those in indoor and outdoor shopping centers, can open for business at 50% capacity; flea markets, swap meets and drive-in movie theaters can also resume operations.

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