By: Catherine Wilson, Staff Writer

Waldorf, MD- For three months the businesses at St. Charles Towne Center stood dormant under the conditions of Covid-19.

“It felt like the apocalypse. Everything was dark and boarded up,” Zumiez employee Michelle Melendez said about the days leading up to reopening.

On Saturday the closure notice was removed from the center’s doors and masked shoppers were introduced to new health and safety guidelines set by mall management.

Shoppers that chose to brave the mall’s reopening were greeted with signs on the floors to navigate foot traffic and encourage social distancing. Other signs were placed throughout the mall informing customers of the changes put in place to ensure their safety.

Guidelines include daily temperature checks for employees, increased sanitizing of common areas, sanitizing stations, and the provision of masks and sanitizing wipes to shoppers in need.

Per directives issued by the state of Maryland, the stores that chose to open required face coverings while implementing other health and safety regulations.  

Shopper Deonte Queen found himself trying to adjust to the recent changes as he searched for a birthday gift for his son.

“It’s changed a lot. They won’t even let you try anything on,” Queen said understanding of the rule but frustrated after months of online shopping.

Shoppers lined the center of the mall during their visit to keep stores at maximum capacities and waited in marked off sections before being allowed to enter.

The limitation of customers inside stores allowed for proper social distancing and enabled employees to keep track of items touched by shoppers so they could be safely removed from the sales floor, Melendez said.

In addition to “quarantining items,” stores like Zumiez are cutting back on hours, frequently sanitizing surfaces and replacing gloves every so often to ensure the safety of their staff, Melendez said.

Eydie Whittington travelled from the DC area to shop and wasn’t fazed by the changes.

“They are doing a great job making people feel comfortable enough to shop,” Whittington said during a break from shopping.

For several shoppers, the reopening of St. Charles Towne Center was an opportunity to leave the house at a chance for some normalcy, but for the owner of Scent-A-Roma Oils, it was about getting the business back up and running after months of being closed.

“It was an adjustment,” Mike Hargrove said about the financial struggles of closing his business.

Hargrove wasn’t able to secure financial support during the time business was closed.

“You find out you have to live off of less,” Hargrove said of the financial dependency of his business.

“If I don’t have customers. I don’t have anything,” Hargrove said between customers, grateful to be back in business.

During phase two of Charles County’s reopening, which went into effect June 19 at 5 p.m., malls and arcades were allowed to reopen under safety measures set by The State of Maryland and Centers for Disease Control, which include the use of face coverings by staff and patrons, social distancing practices and sanitation. 

In addition, places meant for physical activities like gyms, dance studios, bowling alleys and skating rinks can now operate at half capacity while maintaining proper social distancing.