COVID-19: Park Meadows Mall Safety Worries Rise With Traffic

The food court at Park Meadows was crowded on a recent Saturday.
The food court at Park Meadows was crowded on a recent Saturday. Photo by Michael Roberts
The reopening of so-called non-essential retail businesses in metro Denver after the stay-at-home order expired wasn't exactly grand in lots of places, including the Park Meadows mall in Douglas County. When access to the complex was offered again on Memorial Day, social distancing was a snap because attendance was so thin, owing in part to the continuing closure of about 70 percent of the stores inside.

Weeks later, with far more stores open for business, crowds have picked up, particularly on weekends — and so have concerns about mask use among customers and the shrinking gaps between them.

A couple of weeks after our report about the return of Park Meadows, we were contacted by an employee at a mall store, who revealed that during the previous weekend, the place "was PACKED! I was intimidated to go and get something to eat at the even more packed food court! This time, 30 percent of people were not wearing masks!" He asked, "Are we the guinea pigs for spread?!"

To find out, we returned to Park Meadows again on a recent Saturday — and while the scenarios we witnessed weren't as alarming as those described by the employee, there were definitely signs of safety slippage related to a higher number of shoppers, at least a quarter of whom were going without facial coverings.

That was especially true of the food court, where the lion's share of eateries were open, unlike on Memorial Day. Some tables had been removed from the usual dining configuration, opening up larger spaces. But it wasn't just those eating who had taken off their masks. Most people seemed to do so as soon as they entered the area. Although there were exceptions, the majority of folks waiting to be served or looking for places to sit had an unencumbered nose and mouth even when they were passing others, often within a foot or two.

click to enlarge Customers lined up to gain entry to Forever 21. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
Customers lined up to gain entry to Forever 21.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Mask use in the main body of the mall was better, if far from universal. The problem was that patrons eschewing facial coverings tended to travel in groups — if one member of a family had foregone a mask, the rest of them usually did, too — and they tended to be the least polite regarding the social distancing desires of others. Getting around those spread out across the corridors generally meant swinging wide to one edge of the walkway or the other.

Variations on these themes were played out in assorted stores. As was the case on Memorial Day, the customers at Dick's Sporting Goods were the least likely to wear masks and the most apt to engage in selfish assholery. In contrast, shoppers at anchors such as Macy's and Nordstrom tended to be more respectful of others whether they were masked or not.

Another good sign: The most popular stores at Park Meadows, including Forever 21, were limiting capacity inside. Customers starved for retail therapy were clearly willing to wait in appropriately spaced lines in order to find the sort of deals they may have taken for granted pre-pandemic, back when the idea of wearing a mask in public would never have crossed their mind.

Not that everyone thought doing so was necessary. Outside Victoria's Secret, a woman holding but not wearing a facial covering asked the staffer monitoring the line if she needed to mask up in order to enter. "Security wants you to," the (masked) employee said. "But once you're inside, you can take it off if you want to."

That's the kind of message capable of making Park Meadows workers feel like guinea pigs.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts