POTOMAC MILLS SIGN

A sign in Potomac Mills reminds shoppers to keep their distance due to COVID-19.

Among the new COVID-19 rules as Potomac Mills reopens Friday: allowing fewer customers.

For the state’s busiest shopping destination, it’s a safety measure that you could only imagine in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Many stores, restaurants and salons have been closed since at least March 23, when Gov. Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order. And, while businesses elsewhere across the state reopened May 15, Northern Virginia leaders sought a delay until May 29, along with calls for increased testing and monitoring of the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Northam officially announced Wednesday that the region would reopen Friday, giving business owners less than 36 hours to make final preparations. 

“This is a huge step,” said Ross Snare, director of government relations at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. “You have tons of businesses that have been closed for close to three months. It’s important not just for them, but for the employees of these businesses.”

Northam: Phase Two reopening as soon as June 5

Snare said the chamber has been working with businesses and local governments on how to safely open business, and he notes that other parts of the state have seen customers come back since the broader Phase One reopening. 

At Potomac Mills, reopening means the lights are coming on at the sprawling outlet mall after closing March 18. The stores would typically be bustling in late May with deep sales on spring styles as families turn to summer vacation necessities.

Shoppers will find sales, but they’ll also find complementary face masks, more hand sanitizing stations, infrared thermometers, rearranged seating in the food court to promote social distancing and barriers keeping kids off rides and guests out of photo booths.

Under Phase One of reopening:

  • Retail stores and churches can fill 50% of their capacity

  • Restaurants can use 50% of their outdoor seating

  • Salons, barbershops and massage studios are open by appointment only, and under strict rules regarding capacity, face masks and cleaning

  • Gyms are limited to outdoor classes with 10 students applying increased social distancing

Some business owners are ready to get back to work, but not everyone.

“I want to emphasize that while Phase One losens some restrictions, it does not require any business or place of worship to reopen until they are comfortable that they can do so safely,” Northam said Tuesday. “Just because you can open, doesn’t mean you have to open.”

Some small salons and even major retailers in Stafford County remain closed two weeks after Northam lifted the stay-at-home order there.

The Phase One restrictions will also keep some restaurants closed where outdoor dining isn’t an option and leaves nearly no room for gyms to provide services.

Phase Two will likely mean opening the doors at gyms and restaurants and providing more opportunities for salons and spas, but it’s not clear how long Phase One will last. 

“I’m hoping we can get to Phase Two as soon as possible,” Snare said, noting the chamber will keep supporting business owners with daily updates and community resources.  

There will still be challenges due to COVID-19, but Snare is confident that businesses will bounce back.

“You’re going to see them adapt — they’re entrepreneurs,” he said.

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