July 12, 2020
Shoppes at Blackstone Valley weathers pandemic
MILLBURY – The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley were bustling with activity on a recent Thursday. Parking lots lined with vehicles, eager shoppers headed into stores and restaurants and employees to their shifts. Overall, it was a seemingly normal consumer snapshot, except that everyone was wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
The Shoppes are in a unique position in that they have remained open throughout the pandemic because a number of essential services are located there, unlike other malls across the state that were forced to close. In addition, as the largest open-air shopping center in Central Massachusetts, the Shoppes has entrances to each of the 50-plus shops and restaurants from the outdoors.
“We continue to invest in the infrastructure, maintenance, and aesthetics of the property during this time to ensure its place as the premier shopping destination for central Massachusetts,” said Lou Masiello, senior vice president of asset strategy and development for WS Development, the company that owns and manages the Shoppes. “Also, we’ve continued to see it serve as a community center with patrons using the site for walks, one of the benefits of being an open-air center.”
Many of the shops and restaurants have signs strategically placed by entrances and in windows enthusiastically announcing, ‘We’re Open!’ Worcester Regional Transit Authority buses drop customers off at a stop in the shopping area, and 18-wheeler trucks snake through the parking lot delivering goods.
Marshalls & HomeGoods is one of the larger anchor stores, along with Barnes & Noble, Kohls and Old Navy. At Marshalls & HomeGoods, an employee positioned at the entrance counts people walking in to ensure that they do not go over 273, the maximum allowed.
Markers are on the sidewalk outside the store and throughout the inside and at checkout to keep people 6 feet apart, and one-way arrows are on all the main aisle floors. The dressing rooms have a sign that says temporarily closed, and there are partitions installed between every two registers at checkout.
Round Robin is one of the eateries at the Shoppes that operated with takeout only for several weeks before outdoor dining was allowed during part two of Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan. The location is owned by Round Robin LLC, a franchise partner of Red Robin that owns and operates Red Robin locations in Holyoke and Millbury. It is now open for indoor dining as well.
“We knew that social distancing would severely limit our seating,” said Round Robin LLC Chief Operating Officer Phyllis Rosello Mercurio. “We were immediately contacted by our landlord, who offered us additional space to expand our patio and worked with us to ensure that we could maximize our outdoor dining area. We work with several landlords in New England, and folks at The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley were the only ones who came to us to offer help in getting back up and running, and we are very appreciative of their support and assistance.”
WS Development owns and manages the Shoppes property and several others like it around the country, including Boston Seaport, Legacy Place in Dedham, and the Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach, Florida.
“Despite these challenging times, The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley continue to be the premier destination for central Massachusetts,” the company wrote in a statement. “With nearly the entire site open, patrons are still able to have a one-stop destination for all their needs, from groceries to golf clubs and cosmetics to clothes. This could not have been achieved without the perseverance of our tenants, the patronage of our community, or the proactiveness of our town.
“For our tenants, the key word has been ‘adapt.’ They’ve had to install new health and safety practices such as queuing and social distancing in very short order. In addition to these operational changes, tenants have also had to be resilient through these uncertain times. We’ve seen a steady uptick in patrons visiting the property and believe that tenant safety precautions coupled with the Shoppes’ attractive tenant base will lead to a strong summer season.
“The town of Millbury has been instrumental in helping us reimagine the retail experience over the past several months. For example, the town worked quickly and decisively with us and tenants to allow for expanded outdoor seating. We appreciate the town’s collaboration and cooperation – it has been especially responsive and engaged in providing timely advice on a range of issues.”
The company put in temporary pickup parking spots at the Shoppes so that customers can quickly, easily and safely grab takeout and curbside pickup.
“In addition to all these measures, our tenants also have enacted other precautions such as limiting the number of patrons in store, enforcing appropriate seating separation, providing hand sanitizers in-store and expanding outdoor seating,” Masiello said. “We strive to create an environment where people want to be. We have been fortunate to have patrons visit the Shoppes throughout this time, because of the diversified tenant mix that we have and because of the experience of being on site. We’re excited for tenants and for the community to enjoy their summer experience with us.”