A stroll through St. Thomas’ Tutu Park Mall gives a glimpse of what life has been like since the novel coronavirus reached the Virgin Islands. On Thursday, as Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced the third confirmed case of COVID-19, the front doors of the mall were opened wide. Lilibet Foster, who works with the mall, says the open doors are a recommended health precaution, so patrons do not have to touch the door handle.
But the front door invitation to shoppers did not bring business for merchants and managers manning the counters at clothing stores, shoe stores and accessory shops. Barbershops showed mixed activity – in one, near the food court, five customers sat waiting while one barber busily trimmed a hairline. In the other barbershop, near the front entrance, a barber sat and chatted with visitors.
At La Providence Laundromat, two doors north of the side entrance to Kmart, half a dozen customers pushed carts piled high with clothes towards washers and dryers. A few had children in tow. The attendant, who gave a first name – Gena – stepped behind the display case filled with detergent and fabric softener.
“It’s usually busy. It’s been a little slow, but it’s still steady. More or less slow,” she said. “I’m here on the weekdays and it’s fairly busy on weekdays.”
Down from the laundromat and heading down the hall towards center court, the gate is down across the entrance to Champs Sports Apparel. Across the hall, at Boost Mobile, a clerk says Champs is part of a nationwide chain store that decided to close all outlets as coronavirus spread across the United States.
A few steps away, at Foot Locker, the lights are out, the gate is down – another national chain store in the mall, in the dark. (Foot Locker owns Champs.) Over at Boost Mobile, the normally bustling electronics hub for sales and repairs, there is no action to speak of.
“Right now, it’s slow,” said a cashier who said his name was Kurt.
And, shockingly, a gate was down in the mall’s food court, over China King, the busiest concessionaire.
Popular local shops and franchises like Maryanne, Rainbow, Payless ShoeSource and Asfour Clothing Store are all open, minus the foot traffic. The clerk at the perfume shop is resting on an elbow on a counter in the back. Three workers sit around the counter at Just Threads chatting but declined comment to a visiting reporter.
A worker at Vision Center, who did not give her name, rolled the gate up to take a question about business lately. She said the manager would be in tomorrow – come back then.
At Carlos Furniture, Kareem Masallmah smiled and offered 50 to 70 percent off a purchase.
“It’s not there. There’s no traffic. I could count who came to my store,” he said. “I would normally get 20 customers to my store. Now, three to five.”
By then a family strolled in to say hello and check out a modular sofa. Again, Masallmah smiled.
But the biggest smile appeared on the face of Alanna John, manager of Vitamin World. She sat in the stock room, opening boxes of nutritional supplements.
“It’s the big thing now. Business within two weeks skyrocketed,” she said. Customers bought out the bottles of Vitamin C and the immune system boosters.
“Our entire shelf of Vitamin C is depleted. Thank God we have a new shipment coming in. People are looking for Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin C.”
Of all the Vitamin World stores in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, John said hers is the only one up and running and making money.
Further down along the property, Plaza Extra Supermarket played soothing country western music over the public address while shoppers and carts trundled through the aisles. It was almost dinnertime and even though lines to the registers weren’t long, carts were medium full, many with bottled water.