Shoppers slowly trickle back to Ohio’s malls, retail shops


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Opening day for retail stores in Ohio was anything but normal.

Shopkeepers and joggers outnumbered customers in the normally bustling Short North neighborhood of Columbus. Masked shoppers bunched up in lines to buy new Air Jordan basketball shoes inside a Toledo mall lined with darkened storefronts.

With Tuesday’s reopening of retail businesses after a nearly two-month-long shutdown designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine expects 90% of the state’s economy will be restarted by week’s end when barbershops, hair salons and outdoor restaurant dining also comes back.

But if the first day of retail shopping is any indication, the revival of Ohio’s economy will come at a slow pace.

Even among those who were the first customers back at Toledo’s Franklin Park Mall, many said they were there for something specific.

“I’m a little antsy. I don’t want to mingle,” said Amber Fryman, who was getting clothes so she could return to her job making Jeeps. “I’m just going from point A to point B.”

Once inside, though, she found the store that had her online order still was closed.

Martie Reed came away disappointed too. Not only was Bath and Body Works closed, she also saw too many people not social distancing.

“There’s no reason for me to be in the mall looking around,” she said.

Roughly two out of three stores at the mall were closed behind metal gates. Just a handful of stands at the food court were open and all the tables were taped off.

While most store and business employees now are mandated to wear masks by the state, it’s up to individual businesses to decide whether customers should too.

The beginning of Ohio’s week-long reopening of businesses came on a day when the nation’s top infectious disease expert warned of “really serious” consequences if state and local officials lift stay-at-home orders too quickly.

Still, Ohio is among more than two dozen states that are moving ahead with lifting their lockdowns.

State officials said Tuesday that massage services, tattoo parlors and stores offering body piercings also can reopen Friday.

Full restaurant dining will return in just over a week. Gatherings in large spaces inside bars and restaurants, such as for dancing, are still prohibited. And day cares and gyms are among businesses still awaiting word on when they can open their doors.

In the popular arts and entertainment Short North district near downtown Columbus, most passers-by on Tuesday weren’t shopping but walking dogs or jogging.

At Fera, a designer clothing store specializing in denim, owner Jason Dowell was still looking for his first customer just before lunch. His new store was open for a single day in mid-March before he made the decision to shut down.

“I was a little nervous, not nervous as being a new store, but nervous for what’s to come, kind of the unknown,” he said. “Definitely the unknown.”

At Happy Go Lucky, a women’s apparel and home goods store, signs directed customers to use complementary hand sanitizer as soon as they enter. Masks were required and available for a donation.

“It’s hard to say when we’re going to see regular people just like walking in off the street,” said store manager Molly Babich.

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CASES

The number of confirmed and probable deaths associated with the coronavirus in Ohio has reached 1,436, an increase of 79 a day earlier, state health officials said Tuesday.

At least 1,303 deaths were confirmed by the Ohio Department of Health and another 133 were considered probable under guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of confirmed and probable cases topped 25,000 and hospitalizations topped 4,500, the department said.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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Seewer reported from Toledo.