Mae Davis sat in her red four-door sedan in the parking lot of the Valley Hills Mall on Tuesday, took a bite out of her sandwich with a satisfying crunch and waited.
She drove from Statesville to buy a pair of sheets for her double bed. None of the department stores were open when she arrived at 11 a.m. That's when the mall opened to the public after weeks closed under the state stay-at-home order that was in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some stores were open inside the mall. Some were not. A thin crowd trickling into the mall could wander the halls, visit select stores or pick up a bite from the few restaurants open. With the food court seating area closed, they had to eat outside.
Belk was the only department store open Tuesday. The store opened at noon.
Davis decided to wait with a Charleys Grilled Subs sandwich in her car. For her, a trip to the mall was worth the effort. “I’m telling you, I really missed it (the mall),” Davis said.
For weeks she’s been shopping at grocery stores and superstores like Walmart. The experience isn’t the same as going to the mall, she said. She doesn’t want to only buy what she needs. She wants to people watch, window shop and take her time enjoying the experience. That’s why she was thrilled to hear Valley Hills would open Tuesday. And that's what made an hour wait in her car worth it. “It’s just a blessing,” Davis said.
She isn’t afraid of the COVID-19 disease itself. “I’m taking things as they come,” she said. Still, to protect others, she brought her mask and believes masks should be mandatory when so many people are in one place, she said.
While state and national health officials are recommending people wear masks while in public, it isn’t mandatory. Still, many at the mall Tuesday followed the advice with cloth or medical masks.
The reopened mall also offers hand-sanitizing stations, displays signs asking people to stay out if they feel feverish or have COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms and promises frequent, intense cleanings, according to the complex's website.
The massage chairs and soda machines are closed, as are play areas, stroller rentals and mall-operated carousels.
The mall is open under limited hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
For some, like Davis, the mall opening offers a reprieve from the monotony of stay-at-home life.
Among those seeking something to do were Sheila and Scott Tucker. They arrived at 10:30 a.m. While the mall was open, the stores didn’t open until 11 a.m.
The Hickory couple waited in their truck in the parking lot at the main entrance. They were there in search of pants for Sheila, but the trip also offered something to put their minds to during their limited time Tuesday.
Scott is a long-haul trucker. He takes trips to California with just a few days between each journey. He’s seen how COVID-19 has affected states across the country and likes seeing people take precautions. He said he isn’t ready for everything to open back up, but when the Tuckers heard the mall was opening, he and Sheila were pleased to have something to do together.
Inside, though, they didn’t find exactly what they were looking for, Scott said.
The couple weaved through the mall past dozens of dark windows and gated doors. About 20 stores were open for business, including jewelry stores, shoe stores and a handful of clothing stores.
Many were asking that customers stay six feet apart. Belk, the only department store that opened Tuesday morning, limited their entrances and asked customers to social distance.
After a 20-minute walk through the mall, the Tuckers left empty-handed.
The mall website, www.valleyhillsmall.com, lists some of the stores that are open and more may continue to open as state restrictions ease and the economy reopens.
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