(A special “On the Road Report” by Lieba Nesis)
As Florida awaits Stage Three of reopening, its coronavirus cases appear to be on the rise with over 2,783 reported on Tuesday, June 16th – a record high. The source of these new infections is primarily attributed to increased testing and clustered cases in farming and long-term care facilities.
Since New York’s stores remain shuttered, I was curious if shopping was a safe endeavor for the future. Consequently, I embarked on a long-awaited trip to one of Florida’s most famous malls, Sawgrass Mills. The level of precautions instituted left me duly impressed. Located in Fort Lauderdale at 12801 West Sunrise Boulevard, this 2.3 million square foot indoor and outdoor mall, has become a destination spot for thousands of tourists – second only to Disney World in most visited Florida attractions.
Opened in 1990, Sawgrass has expanded four times as it accommodates thousands of suitcase carrying South American shoppers eager to grab items at half the price. Operated by the Simon Property Group, it remains the largest single-story outlet mall in the US, with luxury stalwarts Gucci, Versace, Prada, Burberry, and Dolce, & Gabbana part of its impressive 400-store portfolio.
The mall, which closed on March 18th, reopened on May 18th with reduced hours of 11 AM to 7 PM, along with a restricted capacity of 50% in restaurants and stores. Arriving at the outdoor portion, where exclusive stores are situated, I was surprised no masks were being distributed as promised online. Upon ripping my second mask during my hour-long $50 uber ride from Miami Beach, the salesperson at Neiman Marcus readily handed me another. Neiman Marcus Last Call is one of my favorite stores in the complex, containing dozens of top designers for half the price.
However, much of the clothing was piled on top of each other, resulting in an unwieldy situation. Furthermore, spending $5,000 on last season’s Julien Macdonald dress seemed unwise — even at the 60% price reduction. Despite my hope that the current economic crisis would spur designers to reduce their prices to bargain-basement levels, the discounts of luxury goods were status quo, with most items priced at over $2,000 even from the 2018 collections.
Regarding safety, every store had one entrance only along with an attendant forcefully dispensing hand sanitizer, leaving me worried about whether I might sully the clothing with the awful gook. Moreover, 40 dispensers later, my cracked, dry hands had me longing for the smoother days of yesteryear where moisturizer, not alcohol, was all that adorned my long fingers. Walking around the mall, I felt a sudden surge of melancholy as I viewed the masked faces of excited shoppers. In mere months the pandemic had eviscerated the joy of staring into a clothing mirror maskless. The mall, which appeared to be at 30% of normal capacity, contained a palpable uneasiness.
I bravely soldiered on despite my lugubrious mindset, waiting on a ten-minute line to enter Versace – which had all of three people inside. I tried on the jean jacket Hailey Bieber wore on one of her first outings with Justin, which was emblazoned with Versace. Deciding $715 wasn’t worth it even if reduced from $1,426 — unlike Hailey, I am unfortunately not married to the deep-pocketed Justin.
I stopped by Prada, where my temperature was taken, and a hand sanitizer thrust upon me, as I surveyed the 30-50% reduced merchandise from as far back as 2016.
Gucci, which had the longest line and only allowed in 15 at a time, appeared the most promising with shoes and clothing at least 50% off, bags, and other accessories 30%. However, the clothing which was nearly 70% off contained clunkers from years ago – why shell out that kind of dough when everyone knows its prior year’s goodies.
I grappled as to whether to buy an ill-fitted Paramount T-shirt for $160 reduced from $650 to own the coveted designer for under $200-but ultimately rejected the unbecoming garment. The manager said Gucci sales were down 40% from last year, but they were hopeful that next month’s new shipment would be well received.
Venturing to Saint Laurent, which was locked until a sufficient number of the six customers had exited, I was again dosed with sanitizer while unwittingly smearing it on a $3,000 lace shirt – thankfully black. I remained determined to make a purchase. Spotting a $130 belt reduced from $990, I thought I might have found the one. I asked the helpful salesperson if she could try it on. Realizing how underwhelming the accessory was, I quickly exited the store before I wreaked more damage. Running to Valentino, which opened this past Saturday, only three customers were allowed in at time-with private appointments available by telephone.
Thankfully Ralph Lauren was more friendly, desperately welcoming me inside with the good news that an additional 50% was being offered-the clothing looked more outdated then rollerblades. Suede shirts, cheap sequins, and ill-fitted gowns filled the store. Viewing a boxy silver jumpsuit was the last straw — where were the Bee Gees when you needed them. Marc Jacobs was similarly dreadful-remember when Marc was considered an innovator instead of recapitulating the same old worn-out bags and puffy polka-dotted tops.
The last hope was The Webster, where I spotted a $450 Alexander Wang skirt (from $990) with shorts underneath that had mine and Wang’s name written all over it. Excited by the thought of one of my first purchases of the year, I grappled with whether $500 for a too-large unflattering skirt was worth the price. Deciding that it wasn’t, I consoled myself at It’s Sugar-curious as to how an overcrowded candy land would handle the pandemic. The attendant handed me gloves and clean thongs to grab chocolate malt balls and licorice. Leaving the mall empty-handed, I realized the hand sanitizer thrust upon me cost more than the $10 I spent the entire afternoon.