Oak Park Mall reopens with modifications, but some stores remain closed for now

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Oak Park Mall opened its doors Wednesday for the first tine since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“Just being able to go out and enjoy yourself instead of being locked in the house, it’s kind of exciting,” shopper Deserai Jensen said. “It’s like going into a candy store for a kid.”

It was an exciting day for people who haven’t been inside a mall in a while, looking for things they might have taken for granted in the old world.

“I want to get a new pair of shoes. I really don’t want to order online because they never fit,” shopper Robert Powers said. “And then there’s a comic book store I want to hit up.”

Social distancing wasn’t much of a problem Wednesday at Oak Park because there weren’t a lot of people inside.

“We understand there’s probably some concern and a little bit of apprehension with coming back to a large facility, a public place like a mall,” Oak Park Mall spokesperson Stacey Keating said.

“And so we want to ensure them that throughout our reopening process, we have considered the community’s health, and that’s been top of mind for us.”

Mall management is encouraging mask wearing and social distancing, has closed food court seating, children’s rides and play areas and sitting around the common areas is also prohibited. Staff are also frequently sanitizing high-touch areas.

Although the mall is open, majority of the stores are not.

“What we’ve seen in other markets where we’ve opened malls is that we will have a handful of retailers that open with us when the mall opens on reopening day and then several others will open gradually over the next several days,” Keating said. “And so that’s what we will expect to happen here, as well.”

Bag & Baggage is one of the Oak Park Mall retailers that opened Wednesday.

“It’s been a bit of a struggle because we are a local business. We don’t do e-commerce,” owner Tim Bleish said.

It has been a long six weeks for Bleish. He’s been preparing his three Johnson County luggage stores to open as soon as possible.

“We are ready to get out and ready to start traveling again and ready to invite people back into our stores,” Bleish said.

Oak Park Mall management is requiring businesses to follow CDC guidelines, and Bleish is taking extra precautions.

Besides limiting the number of people in his store for social distancing, hand sanitizer is available throughout Bag & Baggage locations, Plexiglas partitions are being installed, and employees must wear masks and wash their hands between serving every customer. Customers are also encouraged to wear masks.

“If they do not have one, we have them that we offer them for free,” Bleish said.

He’s also selling devices to stay safe outside of his store like no-touch copper door openers and sanitation products to take on the go, whether in town or while traveling.

“I just don’t think people should be stuck in their homes from here until a vaccine is found,” Bleish said. “So we’re going to live with the virus. Let’s learn to do it, but let’s get out and travel and practice all of the safe measures they’re advising.”

To encourage people to visit his stores, Bleish is offering free luggage monogramming and free passport photos for folks gearing up to travel as well as free delivery for those still a bit nervous to go out.

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