Largest shopping mall operator preparing to re-open outside of New England

BOSTON — If you’ve never heard of Simon Property Group, you’ve definitely been to their malls.

Simon owns 18 shopping malls in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, including the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, South Shore Plaza and Northshore Mall.

Internal documents obtained by Boston 25 show how Simon, the largest shopping mall operator in America, is adjusting to the threat of COVID-19.

“Attached is our comprehensive set of safety protocols that have been reviewed and approved by experts in Epidemiology and Environmental Health and Safety,” Simon’s President and Chief Administrator Officer John Rulli wrote in an Apr. 28 email.

“We expect to open the following 49 properties May 1-May 4 based on current state and/or local stay-at-home or closure orders which are subject to change,” Rulli wrote.

All the locations are outside New England, but Simon’s plan offers a glimpse at what local malls could look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

“Our employees will be trained in CDC COVID-19 safety guidelines, wear protective face masks while on property (PPE) and be encouraged to frequently wash or otherwise sanitize their hands throughout the workday,” Rulli wrote.

Documents show the proposals include signs and floor marks advising people to stay six feet apart, food courts that are take-out only, modified bathrooms and limiting elevators to four people at a time.

“I think those are really nice plans,” said Dr. Matt Fox, an epidemiologist professor at Boston University School of Public Health.

While states like Texas, Georgia, Missouri and Indiana slowly reopen, Massachusetts will remain closed until at least May 18, and Dr. Fox said it may be longer.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge. I think the number of cases isn’t coming down quite as quickly as we want it to,” Dr. Fox said.

Fox said businesses that reopen will need to provide employees with comprehensive safety plans, and social distancing and mask wearing will need to continue.

“There is obviously some evidence to support masks reducing transmission. I think there’s also the benefit of when everybody is wearing a mask they are adhering to the social contract of whether or not they could potentially, you know, spread an infection to somebody else,” Dr. Fox said.

A spokesperson with Governor Baker’s office referred us to a recent press release regarding the state’s Reopening Advisory Group.

“The Board progresses towards the May 18th due date,” to present Gov. Baker with a plan to reopen the state, the spokesperson said.

A Simon spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

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