Nebraska Crossing Outlets’ planned “soft opening” Friday now won’t be open to the public, according to a post added to the mall’s Facebook page on Tuesday.
Last week, the owner of the outdoor mall near Gretna told general managers of the mall’s 80 stores that, after speaking with Gov. Pete Ricketts, he planned a Friday soft opening for the stores that wanted to get back to business.
Owner and developer Rod Yates had hailed the plan as a test case for how retailers can safely open to the public.
“We will walk before we run here and obviously if you have any underlying health issues we will encourage shoppers and/or employees to not participate in the center soft reopening,” Yates said in an email last week, announcing the plan.
Now he is backing off from that plan.
The Tuesday morning Facebook post said the only store open to the public Friday will be Uniform Destination, the one store in the mall that never closed.
“You’ve heard the news. We are ‘soft opening’ Nebraska Crossing on 4/24. What does this mean?” the post said. “A ‘soft opening’ is for store employees only — to begin the process of getting their stores ready for business. … This process can take 1, 2, 3 weeks or more. A store can’t just turn on the lights & resume business.”
Soft openings traditionally are openings of stores without fanfare or, in the case of restaurants, openings that allow workers to practice serving food to some customers before the general public comes in.
An employee of a store at the mall said it was clear that the soft open on April 24 was meant to be open to the public.
“To suggest otherwise is a method of damage control that is as disingenuous as the mall has been throughout this entire process,” said the employee, whom The World-Herald is not naming because of feared retribution.
Yates had said that Nebraska Crossing was going to be “the first shopping center that opens in North America.” He and other Nebraska Crossing officials did not respond Tuesday to a request seeking more information on their decision or when stores would be open to the public.
Yates had said that in an effort to keep people safe, the mall had purchased 100 “infrared non-contact instant-read thermometers” — one for each store — that employees will use to check their temperatures upon arrival for their shifts. Store managers could decide whether to offer the thermometer to customers before they enter the store, Yates said.
Mall officials also bought 200 shield guards that were to be installed at registers between customers and employees.
Retailers could decide for themselves if they wanted to open, but some store managers expressed concern that Nebraska Crossing’s announcement about being a case study would pressure their corporate bosses to open. General managers told The World-Herald that they were worried for their own and their customers’ health and safety.
Saturday morning, Yates told CNN that he doubted many stores would open Friday and expected a “formal grand opening” in May, potentially May 1.
Officials with at least 10 retail stores were interested in opening on April 24, Nebraska Crossing officials said in an email last week.
At least twice, Nebraska Crossing wanted stores to open earlier than that.
“As decisions are being made this week, due to many retailers ‘closed through’ dates coming to an end, we are hoping most brands will set a tentative reopening date of Wednesday, April 1,” the management team said in an email sent on March 26. “We are fielding hundreds of calls every day asking when the entire mall will be back open.”
Then, a soft opening was scheduled for April 18, according to a letter sent to general managers. In that letter, mall officials outlined their plan to reopen safely for shoppers and mentioned weekly calls with Ricketts.
On April 14, officials changed the soft-opening date to Friday and posted a new letter on Facebook, deleting the line about the weekly calls with Ricketts.
“Nebraska Crossing will offer a ‘soft open’ April 24th,” the letter read, “with limited retailers who requested to open, with strict guidelines in place — following social distancing rules and guidelines set by the CDC.”
As of Tuesday, that letter has been deleted. The post had hundreds of comments, some people angry about the decision and others cheering it.
Yates told the New York Times in a story published last week about the planned opening that he was looking forward to figuring out how brick-and-mortar retail stores can safely reopen.
“If you’re feeling good and you’re feeling healthy and you’ve got a little pent-up demand,” he told the Times, “we’re going to create a really, really safe environment for you.”
In his press conference Tuesday, Ricketts said it was Nebraska Crossing’s decision to delay the reopening. He said he has never asked the mall to open or close.
Yates and Nebraska Crossing have donated nearly $100,000 to Ricketts’ campaign in recent years. Ricketts has said through a spokesman that he had not talked directly to Yates this year.