Westfield Valley Fair is launching a new Open Air Market in the plaza in front of Bloomingdale's.

Indoor mall shopping in California may be on hold, but one major mall operator is getting creative to help its Silicon Valley stores deal with the reclosure.

Westfield Corp. is literally turning its Santa Clara, Calif., mall inside out, bringing several of its Valley Fair commercial residents outside in its very first Open Air Market. The first was held Friday.

The event, akin to an outdoor pop-up, will run weekly from Fridays to Sundays on the plaza in front of mall anchor Bloomingdale’s. The market currently features 17 retailers and restaurants — including UntuckIt, Pottery Barn, Quay Australia, Rabbit Rabbit Tea, Häagen-Dazs, David Yurman and others — and that’s just for starters.

According to Kate Diefenderfer, director of marketing at Westfield Valley Fair, the mall hopes to add stores over time, as more become ready to operate in an outdoor format.

“We aim to include as many retailers as possible,” she told WWD, “and will stretch the Open Air Market across the property, as needed, to provide ample participation space.”

For now, the tentative plan is to run the outdoor event for four weekends, but the company may extend the timeline, depending on feedback from shoppers and retailers, as well as the changing health safety rules in the state.

“We hope that retailers are successful in continuing to connect with customers and the local community in a safe manner,” Diefenderfer added. “We hope to scale the program and see continued growth over the coming weeks.”

Among Westfield’s dozens of locations across the country, its California properties may be among the trickiest to manage due to the morphing nature of the state’s mandates.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed retail reopenings for a number of venues, including indoor malls, across 30 counties amid resurgent coronavirus infection rates. Since then, the scope has increased, with the latest addition of 36 counties to a watch list that now accounts for 94 percent of California’s population. On Friday, the state reported its highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day.

Locations like those in Silicon Valley have some advantages over city-based malls — namely, more physical real estate and accessibility. That allows Westfield to grant exceptions to some retailers at Valley Fair and its Oakridge mall in San Jose, Calif.

Stores with exterior entrances in those locations don’t have to close. So Valley Fair’s Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Prada, Louis Vuitton and CH Premier Jewelers can continue to operate, as well as Oakridge’s Forever 21, Living Spaces, Target, Macy’s and Nordstrom Rack. 

The exception also includes dining spots with takeout service or outdoor seating — which matters, as food businesses can help drive traffic.

Across both malls, the company also re-implemented curbside pick-up. Westfield temporarily suspended the service during the initial reopening phase, so businesses could focus on resuming their in-store operations.

Outdoor shopping, from open-air malls and pop-up events to farmer’s markets, is rather popular in fair-weathered California. So it’s no surprise to see retailers take their merch outside during these closures. But in other hard-hit regions — say, in places that deal with summer heatwaves or winter storms — stores may have to get even more creative as the pandemic stretches on.

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