Santa Claus & COVID: Rochester-area malls prep for holidays

FILE - The interior of Eastview Mall. Malls will be required to have "enhanced HVAC filtration systems and measures in place." That includes MERV filters for the air recirculation and filtering systems with a rating of MERV-11 or higher. (WHAM photo)

(WHAM) - The holiday shopping rush is going to look a lot different this year.

Local malls are trying to slow things down and stretch them out with an eye on COVID safety measures.

Retailers are pushing for customers to get their shopping done ahead of time and plan in advance in the interest of safety and to keep malls from reaching full capacity.

Pam Palmer was doing some shopping on Friday at Eastview Mall.

"I thought I’d get as much done as I could today in one swoop and that’s it," she said. "If I got here before Thanksgiving, I might have a chance to get it done quickly."

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, area malls like Eastview aren't expecting the usual Black Friday crowds. Shoppers are asked to bring their holiday lists before then - and well before Christmas.

Starting Monday, the three major malls in the Rochester area will extend their hours for shoppers.

Beginning Nov. 16, Marketplace Mall, Eastview Mall, and The Mall at Greece Ridge will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Sunday hours will remain 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Currently, the malls are open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

All mall stores will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

“The majority of retailers are offering sales and promotions for several days versus just one or two days this season, and the sales have already started,” said Wendy Roche, marketing director at Eastview Mall. “This will benefit shoppers who wish to come earlier in the week versus waiting for traditionally busier weekend days."

The malls will open at 8 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving - Black Friday - and remain open until 9 p.m.

Shoppers are encouraged to visit stores during weekdays as often as possible to lessen crowds in the malls. Using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing are also strongly encouraged.

"Shop early, said Eastview Mall Manager Mike Kauffman. "We’re seeing a lot more early shopping this year than we have in the past. We think we’ll continue to see that over the next few months or so."

As a result of the shutdown earlier this year, 11 stores closed at Eastview. But Kauffman says new retailers are showing interest in the property and business is rebounding.

"It certainly was a punch in the gut for us having to be closed for four-plus months," he said. "You take that punch and keep moving on and that’s what’s been so encouraging for us is we’re starting to hear and see from retailers, the light at the end of the tunnel."

Santa will be at each of the three malls from Dec. 4-24. If guests plan to visit Santa, they are strongly encouraged to make a reservation in advance to keep lines to a minimum.

Children will be kept six feet away from Santa; Santa will also be wearing a mask while at the mall.

Sanitizing stations are still set up at every entrance and every store. Visitors are required to wear masks.

"You have to be careful," said shopper Bruce Trojan. "You absolutely have to be careful, have a mask on, use a lot of sanitizer and keep your distance. I think if you do that you’re going to be pretty okay."