At Aventura Mall on a recent weekend, it felt like the coronavirus pandemic was almost over.
Aside from the masks, the lines outside of stores with capacity restrictions and temporarily closed stores, the mall felt like it used to on weekends.
However the pandemic is still on the rise, and Florida has been regularly breaking records for new COVID-19 cases.
“I can’t believe this many people are still coming to the mall,” said Steven Paul Levine, an employee at Nespresso, a coffee shop.
Levine said that after the mall reopened as part of the county’s Initial Reopening Plan on May 18, weekdays brought in very few shoppers. Weekends, however, attracted crowds.
“Days like today feel like it’s a normal day, almost,” he said of a recent Saturday.
Not all malls were as busy as Aventura, though. Seventeen miles south at Brickell City Centre, mall music could be heard in the relative silence. No one was worried about staying six feet away from others because there were not enough people for it to be an issue.
Click on the music notes to listen to the sounds of Aventura Mall (left) and Brickell City Centre (right) during regular peak shopping hours on Saturday, June 20 around 3 p.m.
Unlike Aventura Mall, Brickell City Centre never completely closed when Florida underwent mandatory lockdown as directed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April.
Restaurants including Tacology, Casa Tua Cucina and PubBelly Sushi closed their dine-in services and transitioned to a takeout-only system as a way to stay afloat through the quarantine.
Upon entering the first phase of reopenings, the majority of the retail stores, excluding those that went out of business, opened their doors back up. They expected a flood of shoppers.
Instead, there weren’t enough customers to create lines outside of stores, even with limits on capacity and other public health regulations.
According to Ricardo Velazquez, a mall concierge who has been a Brickell City Centre employee for three years, the number of shoppers has barely increased since reopenings began.
“Things are slowly starting to get back to normal,” said Velazquez. “We ask people to have on their face masks when they’re in the building and we’re only allowing three people in the elevators at a time.”
Ewin Cabrera, who had just finished shopping at Saks Off Fifth Avenue in Brickell City Centre, was surprised by the low number of shoppers.
“I thought I was going to take a while just to check out a pair of pants, but I was out of the store in about 15 minutes,” Cabrera said. “As far as the mall managing to keep the virus from spreading, I think they’re doing pretty well.”
Mall hours around Miami-Dade County and confirmed total COVID-19 cases in the malls’ zip codes, as reported by the Florida Department of Health on July 1.
FIU data analytics and behavioral researcher Maria Ilcheva, however, was not surprised that Brickell City Centre was a lot less crowded than Aventura Mall. She said it’s because Brickell City Centre is in an area where most visitors are international travelers, especially from Latin America and Europe, and air travel has decreased dramatically due to the pandemic.
Aventura receives more visitors from surrounding residential areas, like Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach and Hallandale Beach.
“I can also make an educated guess that people are using malls as a distraction,” said Ilcheva.
Even though more local residents are visiting malls, spending has decreased in response to high unemployment rates and general economic decline.
“I don’t think we’re going back to the level of consumerism that we normally know soon. Those who don’t live paycheck to paycheck will try to save for a rainy day and watch what’s happening in the general economy before they go back to their consumerist behavior,” said Ilcheva.
COVID-19 and a weak economy didn’t stop shoppers from taking advantage of Zara’s clothing clearance sales in Brickell City Centre, though. The lines at the checkout reached the entrance of the store, with almost none of the shoppers maintaining a six-foot distance from each other.
The fitting rooms were closed early to speed up the closing process as Zara adjusted to the mall’s new hours of operation. Almost every person leaving the mall was carrying multiple bags from the store.
These new protocols and health guidelines for malls and businesses in South Florida are now a part of regular life as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The state has registered more than 370,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths. It holds the record for the most new cases reported in a single day by any state.