Retailers plan for safe reopening following COVID-19

Denver city officials created a new program allowing restaurants and bars to operate outdoor patios as locals transition back to dine-in service.

As many states begin to reopen following almost two months of closures caused by COVID-19, many retailers are reimagining how they can serve customers while adhering to new social safety standards.

With Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order transitioning to a safer-at-home order, which does not require residents to stay home but highly encourages them to, many retailers across the state opened. Under state guidelines, open businesses must maintain 6-foot distancing between employees and customers, provide a feasible amount of sanitary products and provide masks for employees. Businesses allowed to reopen include department stores, boutiques, face-to-face financial institutions and car dealerships. Restaurants can stay open for carry-out, curbside pickup, delivery service and limited dine-in seating.

In Denver, the city’s state of emergency is set to end June 15; however, for the foreseeable future, indoor seating at restaurants can operate at 50% and required mask-wearing in public is required.

With these measures in place in Denver and across the country, retailers are reanalyzing their store layouts, safety procedures and customer service for the summer months, with many pushing back their opening dates to prepare.

On May 4, CBRE surveyed 203 companies across the globe, representing retail, office, industrial, logistics real estate, tech space, data centers, and health care. According to the survey, 20% of companies will reopen as soon as government restrictions lift, but 42% will not reopen until their internal standards are met. The survey also found that 72% of companies will conduct a phased reopening with limited employees and customers admitted over weeks or months.

When asked what safety procedures will be implemented going forward, 78% said they will establish space-use policies and guidelines for social distancing, 74% will map out social-distancing zones with floor decals and other reminders, 61% will reconfigure furniture layouts and 59% will require face masks for employees.

CBRE also conducted a webinar featuring several national retail executives from The Home Depot, Starbucks, Total Wine and HMSHost, who discussed the climate of their stores going forward. Each of the executives said their companies will implement similar procedures as the companies surveyed in CBRE’s global study.

“(The Home Depot) reduced store operating hours across all stores, implemented customer limitation with queuing outside of our stores and technology to make sure we have a limited number of customers in the stores at a time. Our locations also have complied with face-covering guidelines and we’ve provided face coverings to all our associates,” said Tommy Ryan, senior director, U.S. stores finance (Southern Division) at The Home Depot.

Starbucks Vice President of Store Development Ray Silverstein said the coffee retailer also is taking action to safeguard its service.

“(Starbucks is) leaning harder into convenient, technology assisted solutions,” said Silverstein. “We have pickup only and curbside locations, and what we’re seeing is that those are what our customers want to use, not only now but in the future.”

With most Denver restaurants operating with carryout, curbside pickup or delivery services, the city’s retail environment could mimic the technology-driven, grab-and-go future Silverstein envisions for Starbucks.

However, in an attempt to bring back dine-in seating for restaurants and bars, the city of Denver created a temporary program for owners, allowing them to operate outdoor seating adjacent to their businesses. This program would allow owners to adhere to social distancing guidelines while accommodating a reasonable amount of customers.

“Expanding outdoor seating will give more guests the opportunity to enjoy their favorite eating and drinking establishments in a safe way and support these businesses that are so vital to our neighborhoods,” said Sonia Riggs, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Restaurant Association.

The city currently is accepting applications for the program to help business owners prepare for dine-in service this summer.

Featured in CREJ’s June 3-16, 2020, issue

Jenna Walters recently joined the Colorado Real Estate Journal as a reporter. Jenna covers metro Denver retail and office news, and all property types in Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties. She also covers the finance market. Before joining CREJ, Jenna worked for other publications, including the Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel and Denver Life Magazine. She was born…