Opinion: Burnaby’s biggest mall no longer a sad ghost town

Chris Campbell

People were shocked earlier this week to learn that Microsoft would not reopen its big store at Burnaby’s Metropolis at Metrotown.

That’s one of the few pieces of bad news for our city’s biggest mall.

I visited the mall a couple of months ago and it was a sad, pathetic ghost town.

Last Saturday, it was anything but. Metropolis was teeming with shoppers who seemed relieved to be out and about again after the province of B.C. announced the phase 3 reopening plan.

That phase 3 announcement seemed to unlock the chains for many people who were ready to do some shopping.

The mall was the busiest I’ve seen it since before the pandemic. Some shops still haven’t reopened, include the ball cap store Lidz. I was sad to see my favourite cookie shop has gone out of business. And, yes, Microsoft is closed forever.

For the most part, however, shops and services are opening again.

I do have concerns with the shoppers themselves because too many of them were not wearing masks. I would say only one-third of the shoppers were bothering.

The mall has taken some great steps with floor stickers managing to keep people off to the side while waiting in lines at stores. I also saw plenty of security on hand to make sure people were following the rules.

While not all stores or services are open, distancing and sanitizing are the name of the game.

Across the concourse from the salon, Blenz coffee shop manager Sam Khashayar says it’s a “step-by-step” process.” He has Plexiglass and distancing rules posted.

Khashayar said staff members are having their temperatures checked at the start of every shift and anyone with a cough or other possible symptoms is asked to stay at home.

He’s not putting out condiments either. Staff will put what customers want in their beverages.
“No customer touches anything,” he said. “No sugar, no lids.”

Clothing stores have some extra precautions to take. Omnipresent in those stores are steamers.

At Plenty, a men and women’s boutique, Koby Thomson is outside the fitting rooms armed with a steamer. Each time a customer tries on a piece of clothing, it gets steamed. Adjacent fitting rooms are closed and their curtains get a once over from Thompson when they’re used as well as a cleaning.

“Anything that customers try on we steam,” said manager Jenifer Lam. “The virus dies at high temperatures.”

Lam said the so-called new normal means a change in customer service. It involves less contact, more communication to determine what people need.

Like many others, Plenty is limiting the number of customers entering at any one time.
At Sakura Media, a Japanese animé hobby shop, general manager Jonathan Kuo said he’s cut further down on the recommended number of customers allowed to enter a store his size.
With a small retail space and a limited number of staff, he said, it’s about being able to have some control so everyone is safe. And that means follow guidelines, he added.

“It will eliminate a lot of problems,” Kup said. “Hopefully, it will get back to normal.”

Kuo was ready to get back to work.

“We need the business to sustain the business,” he said.

And he said, it’s good to be back with others.

“Everybody’s kind of excited,” he said. “You’re seeing your second family again. It’s good for everybody.”

And, that’s a sentiment echoed throughout Metrotown.

Asked why she’d come down, shopper Betty Goulet said she was hoping some of the restaurants would be open.

And, indeed, the food court is open again, but when I was there, traffic was much lighter.

She said she feels secure about the mall’s precautions.

“People have been keeping their distance,” she added.

James Desmasdon said he was at the mall “just to get out of the house.”

“I’ve been into a couple of stores,”he said. “I haven’t touched anything or bought anything.”
“I’m basically getting some exercise,” Desmasdon said. “It feels great.”

  • With files from Jeremy Hainsworth

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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