Retailers beginning to reopen after coronavirus

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Some of the largest U.S. retailers are itching to reopen after being forced to close for weeks by state mandates curbing the coronavirus pandemic. And now that states including Georgia, South Carolina and Texas are beginning to lift those mandates, stores will soon welcome back customers under special guidelines. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said this week the state will allow stores to reopen in phases starting May 1. All retailers can admit customers but only at 25% of the store’s legal capacity under Abbott’s first phase. 

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“If phase one works while containing COVID-19, phase two will expand that occupancy to 50%,” Abbott said Monday“Further increases will be allowed in the future so long as COVID-19 remains contained.”

The Texas plan comes as much-needed news to many retailers who have lost sales and laid off employees. Mass social distancing has meant fewer customers visiting stores and that led many brands from Abercrombie to Williams Sonoma to temporarily close last month

Some national retailers have reopened since then, including GameStop, which has open stores in Georgia and South Carolina. Half of T-Mobile’s U.S. stores and some Urban Outfitters stores have reopened as well. Apple hinted it may reopen its stores nationwide in early May. 

The list of reopened retailers will likely grow because Idaho, Iowa and Vermont have all made plans to lift their closure mandates in coming days. 

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“Preventing outbreaks and limiting the spread of COVID-19 is the only way to avoid future business and social disruption,” Vermont Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle told Green Mountain State businesses last week. “The success of this phased restart will depend in large part on the ability of employers and employees to adhere to the public health, safety and social distancing measures.”

Yet as individual states begin reopen procedures, the retail industry said it wants more governors to set uniform nationwide criteria for when and how businesses can accept in-store customers.

The National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association sent a plan this week to governors that details how stores should reopen in three phrases. The second phase calls for stores to have “robust health and safety protocols in place to protect customers and employees.” In the final phase, all states would lift mandatory store closings for retailers. The plan stops short of giving specific dates on when each phrase would begin.

The industry groups said retailers have laid off more than a million employees since the forced closures began, but now their members, which include Walmart, Target and Best Buy, want to work with governors and public health leaders.

“The entire retail sector is prepared to meet this challenge and give consumers confidence in our ability to safely and warmly welcome them back into our stores,” the groups said.

—With reporting by the Associated Press.