On Reopening Day, Patrons Venture to Trumbull Shops

WARREN, Ohio – Entering Thom Duma’s Fine Jewelers requires patrons to follow a procedure. 

First, the security guard stationed at the front door checks temperatures with a no-touch thermometer. Then, visitors are required to use hand sanitizer and put on latex gloves – available in three sizes – and put on a face mask if they don’t aren’t already wearing one.

The Courthouse Square jewelry store joined Trumbull County establishments that were permitted to open their doors to the public Tuesday. Other than stores that sell food and other items deemed essential, most retail establishments in Ohio have been shuttered since mid-March as part of the state’s effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Gov. Mike DeWine announced two weeks ago that retail establishments could reopen Tuesday after taking the appropriate safeguards, including providing face masks for staff, limiting the number of people in their establishments to half of what is permitted by the fire code and enforcing social distancing.     

At Thom Duma, those measures also include another round of hand sanitizer and alcohol hand-baths after each piece of jewelry handled, said manager Lynn Capezio. 

“It’s been challenging. We spent six weeks during the shutdown trying to nail down proper protocol and procedure – adopting all of the necessary measures to keep our customers and our staff safe – and we role-played and we practiced,”she said. “It’s learning the new dance, basically.” 

Customer flow was busy “right out of the gate,” with about 20 patrons within the first two hours the store was open, Capezio said. “We had more traffic today than on a normal Tuesday, that’s for sure,” she said.

Retailers at the Eastwood Mall in Niles opened to the public at 10 a.m. Tuesday. One of the mall doors opened at 7:30 a.m. for the patrons who participate in the mall walker program. 

Tuesday morning, the vast majority of patrons wore face coverings, which are not required for shoppers but strongly recommended by the state guidelines. 

“We’re following all the best practices we can,” Eastwood Mall spokesman Joe Bell said. 

In the weeks since the mall shut down, maintenance and housekeeping crews made sure all the surfaces in the mall were cleaned and sanitized, Bell said. “They have put together an aggressive regiment of cleaning that we continue every day, just to make people feel comfortable,” he added. 

The mall also installed floor decals to indicate safe spacing – at least six feet apart – and signage reminding patrons to observe proper hygiene and spacing practices and, if they purchase food at the food court or other mall restaurants, not to eat at the nearby tables and chairs, which are left out for people who need to rest.

“There are two segments of society that manifest themselves right now,” Bell said. “There are those people who have been itching to get out and just need to go shopping and socialize. You’ll see them coming and using it as a social event.

“Meanwhile, there’s the other side who have been watching the news for weeks and maybe are frightened and they’re more reticent. They’ll stay home,” he continued. “That’s just the psychology of what’s going on right now.” 

“I miss the mall. I miss the stores. I miss the interaction with some of the people,” said Samantha Augustine of Greenville, Pa. 

Augustine, who came to Eastwood with her niece to shop at Victoria’s Secret, said she is comfortable being in public. She was taking care to observe social distancing and wore a mask in part because she works in the dementia unit of a nursing home and doesn’t want to infect the people she cares for. 

Being able to indulge in some “retail therapy” is important for people like her who work in the health care field – nursing homes are among the hot spots for COVID-19 – to “take your mind off all of this craziness that’s going on,” she said. 

Jennifer Jakubek of Warren was also at the mall Tuesday morning, waiting for Bath and Body Works to open so she could pick up hand sanitizer. She stopped on her way to St. Joseph Warren Hospital in Warren, where she works in the cafeteria. She said she was “extremely eager” to see retail shops reopen.

“I’ve been at work a lot. I’ve missed being normal, like being able to go out where I want,” she said. “My husband and I go out to eat a lot so being able to sit down and enjoy that again, that’s something that we really miss.”  

To address the concerns of people who might be reluctant to enter the mall, Eastwood set up a “mall to go” program that allows shoppers to order merchandise from participating merchants, complete the transaction on a smartphone and drive to a designated parking area, where a store employee will bring the merchandise outside, Bell said.

In addition, to help address the supply of personal protective equipment such as masks, the mall is putting together a “PPE marketplace” that will offer free space to local crafters to sell to the public, he said. 

Although many of the mall’s large tenants were closed Tuesday –  Macy’s, JCPenney and Old Navy remained dark – several others scattered throughout the main building were open or were preparing to open.  

“We don’t have a hard count of what retailers are opening. It’s really up to them,” Bell said. Some tenants might have staffing, inventory or preparation issues that are keeping them from opening right away. “We expected this would be a slow opening,” he said. 

Jeff Lyda was getting ready to open Everything Buckeyes, which specializes in Ohio State University and other sports memorabilia. He co-owns Adyl Inc. – which also operates Party On! at the McKinley Centre across U.S. Route 422 from the mall – with his sister, Debbie Simon, 

“We’re not expecting droves of people,” Lyda said. “It’s going to be a gradual thing because everybody’s nervous and it doesn’t look like [the coronavirus] is going away anytime soon.”  

Everything Buckeyes and Party On shut down March 17 when the state-mandated shutdowns of nonessential businesses went into effect. During that time, Lyda and his sister prioritized their bills, successfully applied for the federal Paycheck Protection Program and used the stores’ Amazon retail platforms and websites to provide new sources of revenue. 

“The silver lining in this whole thing is it forced me to get a better handle on my own business on the digital side of it,” he said. He managed to grow his Amazon presence sixfold so it can become a “viable revenue stream for us.” 

In preparation for the reopening, Lyda installed a plexiglass shield at the main register, and the entire store has been cleaned. At Party On, any outfit that a patron tries on that is not purchased will be placed on a rack in the stock room for two days, which he said should be enough time to address any exposure.     

“We’re relying on the public to be responsible too” he said. While the state isn’t mandating that customers wear a mask, patrons should wear one “out of respect for workers and other people,” he said. 

Employees at Daffin’s Candies store in the Eastwood Mall were preparing for a potential Friday opening, manager Mandy Meyer said. 

“They’re working hard to basically clean every aspect of our store,” she said. Safeguards are being installed at registers and social distancing markers will be put on the floor. 

Ten people – including whoever is behind the counter – will be permitted inside at a time, she said. People who don’t wear masks will still be served, Meyer said, but they are being asked to wear them because several employees fall into high-risk categories.      

While individual retailers need to monitor how many people are in their stores, that’s not an issue for the mall, Bell said. The only time it gets close to 50% capacity is Black Friday, he said. 

Like other retailers, Books A Million employees had to abide by the mask-wearing requirement, and lines in front of registers are marked with the required six-foot distancing, said manager Hannah Corbett. Regular cleaning is also a regular part of the routine.

“I’ve wiped down this register so many times,” Corbett said.   

“[People] like to browse,” she continued. “Sometimes it’s nice to just get a story to escape from reality for a minute. The book store is a great place to do that.” 

Back on Courthouse Square, Greg Bartholomew opened All American Cards and Comics for the first time since closing March 24. He estimated yesterday was probably his best Tuesday ever in terms of sales. 

“You’re going to get a small percentage of people that have cabin fever. They’re going to come out,” he said. 

All American Cards and Comics owner Greg Bartholomew

Another 80% will probably come out  after a week or two and another 10% probably will wait longer, he said.

“Somebody already has said, ‘See you in July.’ That’s fine,” he said. 

An order of masks that Bartholomew placed a couple weeks ago for patrons to wear hasn’t arrived, he said. About 90% came wearing their own, he said.

Bartholomew has been cleaning the store since it closed, marking up a collection he had acquired last year for sale and selling products online, managing to more than cover the expenses of paying his employees, rent at his Boardman store and other costs. He is making plans to hold a large sale on the weekend that he was planning to hold his Youngstown Comic Con, which he canceled because of the pandemic.  

The reopening of retail was welcome news for customers of Evaline’s Bridal in Warren. Since the dress shop announced it was reopening, the phone has been “ringing off the wall,” said owner Lori Dubasik. 

To comply with the guidelines, the shop is limiting the length of appointments and the number of guests the bride-to-be can bring, she said. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are accommodated if time is available. If not, clients can schedule for another time.      

“It’s such a special moment in everybody’s life. You don’t want them to miss this moment,” she said.

Evaline’s Bridal owner Lori Dubasik

During the shutdown, Evalie’s Bridal launched virtual appointments to allow customers to choose a dress online and try it on at home. Store personnel provided guidance via video conference.   

Generations of families rely on the shop, Dubasik said. A bride-to-be will say her mother and grandmother both got their dresses at the shop, which has been in business more than 75 years.

“We didn’t want to lose what we have established with the brides in our area,” she said. “We had to create this virtually because not every bride is going to feel comfortable to come into the store.” 

Staff were trained to follow the new state guidance, she said. 

Not everyone was comfortable going shopping Tuesday. Sharon Fitzgerald of Warren acknowledged she was “a little nervous” about coming to Evaline’s. She is in a high-risk category, but her son is getting married in June and she needed a dress.  

“This is about the first time I’ve ventured out in a few weeks. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have the wedding,” she said. 

Pictured at top: Books A Million manager Hannah Corbett says the store has adopted strict cleaning procedures.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.