Gov. orders casinos, dining-in closed; malls, movies remain open
UPDATE: As of March 19, all movie theaters are closed under a governor order. The Dover Mall announced a voluntary closure on March 19, while the Concord Mall and Christiana Mall closed by government mandate as of March 24.
Some of the state’s most publicly traveled places took different approaches in whether to close, reduce traffic or remain completely open amid the growing concern over the COVID-19 coronavirus. On Monday, Gov. John Carney made the decision for many of them: forcing restaurants to only offer takeout or delivery meals while closing casinos. Unaffected by Carney’s order, however, were shopping malls and movie theaters, which are only urged to limit patronage.
Carney recognized that prohibiting restaurants from having dine-in service beginning at 8 p.m. Monday was going to have the most dramatic impact for many small business owners.
“These restrictions will hit Delaware’s restaurants and bars especially hard,” Carney said in a statement announcing the new restrictions about 2:30 p.m. Monday. “Delawareans should continue to support these businesses, and their workers, by ordering take-out or delivery. Restaurants also remain a critical source of food for vulnerable populations. But this is a very serious situation, with a significant amount of uncertainty. If you gather with 50 people or more, you are only increasing the risk that more Delawareans will come in contact with this virus. Let’s not make a challenging situation worse.”
Meanwhile, Carney ordered gambling to cease at the state’s three casinos as of 8 p.m., essentially closing the large businesses. For two of the casinos, closing was already a reality before the announcement.
Delaware Park in Stanton announced Sunday that it would close at 6 a.m. Monday, citing the state of emergency declared by Carney late Thursday that closed schools and advised that all non-essential public gatherings of 100 people or more be canceled.
“There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Delaware Park to date. However, given that New Castle County does have confirmed cases of COVID-19 we are taking this situation very seriously. We are closely monitoring this situation and will work diligently to establish a reopening date as soon as possible,” the casino wrote in its statement. “While we are closed we will be conducting enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of the casino, restaurants, sportsbook and racetrack based on the recommendations of the Department of Health and Social Services and the Centers for Disease Control.”
Joining Delaware Park in its decision to close Monday was Harrington Casino and Raceway which announced that it would close at 4 p.m. until April 1.
Meanwhile, the state’s other casino, Dover Downs, remained open as of Monday. It had instituted heightened cleaning procedures akin to the movie theaters and malls, as well as creating a designated “clean team” to address high-touch areas, including slot machines.
Carney’s Monday order also lowers the threshold for event cancellations from 100 people to 50, and requires events to not be rescheduled until after May 15 or when the COVID-19 threat has subsided. Event cancellations have been flooding in as concerts, St. Patrick’s Day events, opening weekend in Dewey Beach and more have been canceled in recent days.
Unaffected by the governor’s new orders are perhaps the most publicly traveled businesses in the state: malls. The Christiana Mall, Concord Mall and Dover Mall are still open as of Monday morning.
The Christiana Mall announced Monday morning that it would reduce hours to between noon and 7 p.m. every day except Sunday, when the mall will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The owner of Delaware’s largest and most popular mall, Brookfield Properties, made those changes at all of its malls after receiving increasing questions from the public over its decision to stay open even as large nearby Pennsylvania malls like the King of Prussia Mall, Exton Mall and Springfield Mall were ordered by the governor there to close.
“Our retail assets serve and support our communities as employment centers and points of purchase for necessary goods and services. This revised operating schedule is intended to strike a balance between allowing our communities to receive the goods, services, employment and commerce they need, while also enabling our property and store teams to implement rigorous cleanings each evening, in addition to the focus, frequency and intensity of cleanings throughout the day. Brookfield Properties is committed to combating the spread of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement responding to a Delaware Business Times inquiry as to the reasoning behind the adjusted hours.
When asked Monday morning by DBT, Carney’s office said that state health and emergency management officials had been in “consistent contact with a number of partners, including the business community, on how we can all help in Delaware’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.”
While Carney has urged citizens to avoid large public gatherings, he has not gone to the extent that neighboring leaders, like Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have in demanding that private businesses close in at least parts of their states to help stem the tide of new COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut announced a joint plan to prohibit gatherings of 50 or more for two weeks and close all non-essential businesses.
To date, mall owners, including Christiana’s Brookfield, Concord’s Mason Asset Management, and Dover’s Simon Property Group, have relied upon its individual retailers to make the decision as when to close completely during the pandemic. Some with Delaware storefronts have already made that call, including Apple, Anthropologie and Abercrombie & Fitch.
All three have said they have also increased the frequency of cleaning of public spaces and installed hand sanitizer for public use. Cherry Hill, which operates the Christiana and Concord mall’s Easter Bunny photo booths, has also postponed the opening of its attraction at the malls, and warned that it may close altogether.
Meanwhile, many of the state’s movie theaters are actively trying to keep their doors open among the pandemic.Only Regal, which operates two New Castle County theaters, has closed its locations as of Tuesday. Its major competitor, Cinemark, which operates two New Castle County theaters of its own, was still sticking to voluntary 50% seating reductions to increase “social distancing,” or the space between people to lessen the risk of airborne infection from an infected person. That was the tactic originally taken by Regal before closing. Both chains also increased the frequency of their cleaning and focusing on high-touch hard surfaces, where the virus is said to spread most effectively.
Smaller movie theater owners in the state, including Penn Cinema, Westown and Movies at Midway, are taking different stances in whether to stay open.
Penn Cinema, which operates the IMAX at the Riverfront in Wilmington, has decreased seating by 50%, offered new popcorn buckets for all refills and propped open doors to keep them from being touched. Westown, which operates theaters in Middletown and Newark, has not announced a decrease in seating for “social distancing,” but is decreasing hours to 1 to 8 p.m. and redoubling its cleaning efforts. As of Tuesday morning, both were still open.
Movies at Midway, which operates the Rehoboth Beach theater, announced Tuesday that it was closing temporarily. Previously, it had announced the most drastic restrictions, decreasing seating by 66% and closing 40% of auditoriums for planned renovations along with heightened cleaning.
By Jacob Owens