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Gap, Nordstrom prepare to reopen hundreds of stores with new protocols for workers, shoppers

Shuttered fitting rooms and quarantined returns among the post-shutdown changes

Gap, which includes Old Navy, Banana Republic, Janie and Jack, Athleta and Intermix, will open as many as 800 stores in the coming weeks. (John G. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Nordstrom and Gap are among a growing group of national retailers that will gradually reopen their stores in the coming weeks as states emerge from coronavirus shutdowns, even as the U.S. death toll from covid-19 continues to rise.

Dozens of U.S. shopping malls — in Alaska, Texas, Indiana and others states — reopened this weekend, though many of the stores inside remained shut. But that is changing: Macy’s resumed operations at 68 stores on Monday. Best Buy, Coach and Kate Spade stores have announced plans to come back online as more states and localities lift restrictions.

Gap says it will reopen as many as 800 North American stores this month, starting with a “small selection” of locations in Texas this weekend. Old Navy, Banana Republic, Janie and Jack, Athleta and Intermix all are part of Gap.

Malls are reopening, with masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer-spritzing doormen

But the company said stores will look and feel a bit different: Bathrooms and fitting rooms will be closed, and returned items will be quarantined for 24 hours before being placed back on shelves. Employees will wear face masks, and hand sanitizer dispensers will be added near front doors and cash registers.

Shopping hours will be reduced, and the flow of customers will be “actively” monitored in stores. The company also plans to expand curbside pickup, currently available at 75 stores.

“Our top priority remains the health and safety of our employees, customers and communities,” Gap said in a statement on Wednesday. “As customers’ lives have shifted, so have the ways we’re meeting their needs.”

Much of the industry is struggling to make ends meet after widespread shutdowns brought in-store sales to a halt in March. Gap was among dozens of retailers that didn’t pay rent in April. Others have canceled orders and cut executive pay in a bid to save cash. More than 200,000 stores have been temporarily closed since March, cutting into retailers’ profits and straining their finances.

Macy’s plans to reopen all stores in six weeks, starting with 68 on Monday

Nordstrom said this week it will permanently close 16 stores and gradually reopen the rest. It will limit the number of customers and employees at its 100 namesake department stores and 247 Nordstrom Rack outlets, and it will provide facial coverings for workers, vendors and shoppers. Its stores have been closed since March 17.

“We’ve been investing in our digital and physical capabilities to keep pace with rapidly changing customer expectations,” chief executive Erik Nordstrom said in a Tuesday news release. “The impact of COVID-19 is only accelerating the importance of these capabilities in serving customers. More than ever, we need to work with flexibility and speed.”

The company did not identify which stores would close permanently as part of a broader restructuring that is expected to save the company $150 million a year.