MERIDEN — Boscov’s department store reopened at 11 a.m. at its Westfield Meriden mall location Thursday with reduced hours and new safety precautions.
"As the authorities allow retail stores to reopen, we’re excited to welcome back our loyal customers and are grateful for the opportunity to bring many of our furloughed coworkers back to work," a message on the company website said. "But it has to be done safely."
The Meriden and Milford stores will offer dedicated shopping hours for high risk customers on Mondays from 11 a.m. to noon. The store will be open until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“Customers always expect the same great bargains, and they are going to find them and the same workers and great service, but it’s going to look a little different,” company Chairman and CEO Jim Boscov said in an interview with the Record-Journal Thursday afternoon. “We need everybody following the rules and customers expecting they’re going to be safe.”
Traffic was steady Thursday with customers following direction arrows as they browsed the aisles.
Boscov’s is the last anchor remaining at Westfield Meriden after Sears and Macy’s closed in the past year. Retail experts are expecting a slow return to malls following the pandemic. But pent-up consumer demand could drive some initial traffic.
“What we are experiencing is better than expected,” Boscov said.
The department store reopened earlier this month in U.S. locations that were less impacted by the coronavirus.
“In the Connecticut market we expect not to get up to the full volume, but do better than our competitors,” Boscov said. He attributed the performance to the store’s prices and its relationship to its customers.
After the March shutdown, Boscov opened several stores with small crews to fulfill orders, instead of having customers go directly to vendors. The strategy worked as merchandise was coming from local stores not warehouses.
Boscov’s also stayed in touch on Facebook.
“Instead of bombarding people with sales information, the department store delivered messages that we’re all in this together,” Boscov said.
The company engaged with customers through cooking shows, stress relief videos, and children’s story hours on Saturday mornings, with Boscov and others reading aloud.
“Those were my favorites,” Boscov said.
Staying afloat while other department stores struggle to stay out of bankruptcy isn’t as difficult when you don’t have debt, he said.
“We’re very conservative, we have virtually no debt,” Boscov said. “It was necessary to eliminate any expenses. We needed to hold on to what we have and to survive. We’re doing very well but I’m not ready to declare victory. The worst thing in the world for the retail industry is if we have a resurgence in the fall and we have to close again in November. That would be catastrophic. This is not going to be over until we have the vaccine.”
For those reasons, Boscov stresses the importance of continuing social distancing, a rigorous cleaning schedule and mask wearing to prevent any reoccurring outbreaks.
Individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition may enter the store without providing medical documentation. Those without a mask can purchase one for a donation.
Customers and employees must follow social distancing guidelines as outlined by the CDC and remain at least six feet away from other individuals.
Customers will be asked to follow entrance and exit patterns. Each store will have at least one designated entrance and all other doors will be used as exit only.
Boscov’s will closely monitor store traffic to stay well below the governor's capacity guidelines and all returns must go to the courtesy desk.
Boscov's has established an intensified cleaning program focusing on areas such as bathrooms, handrails, door handles, shopping carts and other frequently touched surfaces.
Individual cash register stations will be available within the store to enhance social distancing. Plexiglass screens have been installed at each register. Special hygiene protocols have been put in place in the cosmetics department, and all dressing rooms are temporarily closed.
“I couldn’t wait to go back because they have great deals,” said Denise Bachand of Newington. “I needed to get in there and find those bargains.”
Bachand was at the store when it opened and in only minutes she bought a new patio set, and clothes for her grandchildren. Then her sister sent her back in for curtains.
“It’s been a long two months,” Bachand said. “It’s been awful being home for so long. They’re doing a great job, with the cleaning, the sanitizing.”