Mask-wearing shoppers greeted with long lines at newly reopened South Coast Plaza

Stephanie Lai
South Coast Plaza reopened on Thursday.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds of shoppers flocked to the newly reopened South Coast Plaza on Thursday, where frustrated guests were met with long lines to enter stores in the upscale mall.

The Costa Mesa shopping mecca opened its doors at 11 a.m. after a three-month closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Within 15 minutes, mask-wearing customers found themselves standing in amusement-park-like queues, waiting to be let inside one of the hundreds of stores that had reopened.

A few storefronts — Victoria's Secret, Aldo and Pandora, among them — were still locked and notices were plastered on windows. Several would-be buyers peered into the shuttered Versace store, where the marble displays were stripped of merchandise and the lights were off.

Other businesses, including Prada, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, were so overwhelmed, however, they asked customers to come back later.

By early afternoon, Cartier shoppers had to schedule appointments for the following day. Cypress resident Paul Kim was frustrated when he was turned away from the jewelry store, one of several shops he had come specifically to visit.

“We wanted to buy for a while now. And the jewelries, you need to wear it before you buy it. We don’t want to order it online and have to return it, so we decided to wait for the stores to open up again,” Kim said.

Kim arrived at the mall right at its opening because he thought it was going to be busy, but he didn’t expect the lines.

As boutiques worked to limit capacity to 50%, the overflow of waiting guests flooded the shopping center's hallways. Dozens waited in front of Louis Vuitton’s red-cushion storefront display. Customers wanting to enter the Gucci and Zara stores backed up across neighboring storefronts.

Jasmine Harris, a 28-year-old nurse, waited in line for more than an hour to get her Gucci purse cleaned, an errand she'd been waiting to run for more than a month.

“I don’t know why they’re limiting people in the store when there’s more people out,” Harris said, unable to stay socially distanced from those around her because of the size of the hallway.

Across the mall, the line in front of Zara stretched around the square banister. Maggie Collins, a 29-year-old nurse, drove from her home in Long Beach after months of quarantining at home.

“I don’t really get why we’re limiting in the stores if we’re all still congregated out here,” Collins said. “If they’re mandating the masks, I don’t think the proximity of things matters — and everyone is still touching everything.”

She was not concerned for her health because of the safety precautions the facility had taken, Collins said.

Customers were mandated to wear a mask while shopping and were given free face coverings if they didn't have any. Signs were posted in the halls to restrict walking on the right side — though shoppers didn't always comply because of the crowds.

Workers also stood by the escalators and elevators, frequently cleaning. Hand-sanitizing stations were positioned at the mall entrances, and some businesses provided their own.

Tod's was among the stores with sanitizer on hand. Store manager Paula Monma said the store’s policy is to clean after each visitor.

“The company has put a lot of safety and health measures in place that we’re certainly getting used to,” Monma said. “We want to make sure it's a safe place for everyone involved, and we’re certainly going to follow our maximum capacity.”