Curbside Pickup Makes Slow Start in Newark, But Helps Sales at the Mall

Two regions of the state are reporting different experiences as they reopen nonessential retail businesses

Don’t look for a big reopening of Newark businesses anytime soon, even though New Jersey’s largest city reports a steady and steep decline in new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“As we continue to do more testing and having people shelter-in-place, we see that the numbers have decreased dramatically,” said Philip Scott, director of engineering for the city.

Newark dabbled with curbside pickup for nonessential businesses to test their restart readiness. Clearly, Mayor Ras Baraka says some businesses aren’t ready.

“We shut down most of those stores yesterday, gave them an application to fill out, and told them they had to fill out an application and come up with a plan with how they’re going to do the curbside. Because they have people who are trying on sneakers on the sidewalk, as I imagined, people trying on pants on the sidewalk, people getting their nails done on the sidewalk,” he said.

According to the strike force the mayor appointed, for phase one of reopening, businesses must apply and detail how they will reopen, in addition to how they will protect patrons and employees. If permitted to reopen, they must display a city-issued colored sign — red, yellow or green — in their windows that assesses risk of contracting the virus.

“We are putting the pressure on our side to make sure that we do this methodically, cautiously, in a way that we can manage it locally because we don’t want to see spikes,” Baraka said. “All of this stuff that people are doing, arbitrarily saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to open up this building now, let’s just do it’ is ill-advised because the cities are not prepared to execute those things. You can make a decision to tell people to do things that one, they’re not used to doing, they’ve never done this before. You tell people you can go curbside, but most people don’t even know what that means.”

“There’s a myriad of different things that we can open. It’s how we open it up becomes the question. How is it opened up? What are the safety measures there? And if you can’t provide safety, then you can’t open up. If you can’t open up and assure safety, that’s why we’re asking all of these businesses to have a safety plan, and if the safety plan is not adequate you can’t open up. We’re preparing people for what we’re calling phase two for us, which is where people will start being able to go into places they weren’t able to go into before, which in our mind begins on the 14 or 15,” the mayor continued.

Newark has no beaches, but that didn’t stop the mayor from lathering on the criticism for Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan for reopening the Jersey Shore.

“I told my residents don’t go down there. I don’t think they should go down there. I don’t. I told them don’t go, don’t come back here with something you didn’t leave with. I don’t encourage it,” Baraka said.

A different reopening approach

It’s a much different approach 25 miles north in suburban Paramus. Twenty-six stores of the Westfield Garden State Plaza Shopping Center reopened for curbside pickup Thursday.

It works like this: Customers place an order online or by phone. When they get to the mall, they call the store or restaurant with their pickup location and wait for orders to be delivered.

Outside one department store, Grace Kim waited for the delivery of her online order.

“It’s pretty seamless. I ordered yesterday and I got the email and I came to pick up my stuff,” said Kim. “I think it’s really great so people can start working and people can start buying things again. I mean, even though the economy is shut down, people still have birthdays, they’re celebrating things that we still need to buy things for. I’m happy about it.”

Workers coming to the mall for the first time in weeks expressed caution.

“A bit of anxiety, but OK,” one worker said.

“A little worrisome, but you got to do what you got to do, right?” another worker said.

Jay Daly, senior general manager for Westfield Garden State Plaza, shared what it took for the mall to reopen.

“Two main things it took was communication and collaboration. We’ve been working on this for several weeks to get ready for this day,” Daly said.

The mall’s limited hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it’ll list store reopenings on its website as they happen. For now, Paramus and Newark are two cities with two very different approaches to phase one reopening.