Retailers, fighting to survive, adopt new safety measures as they begin reopening

Retailers like Nordstrom have turned some stores into temporary online fulfillment centers during the coronavirus pandemic. A mall has slowly begun reopening its stores with new rules.
8:46 | 05/14/20

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Transcript for Retailers, fighting to survive, adopt new safety measures as they begin reopening
Good morning, everybody. It's Xavier from Nordstrom nyc, I'm just about ready to leave my house and head into work. There is my mask collection. I think I'm going for blue today. Reporter: Braving the streets of New York City in the middle of a pandemic. He is heading to work but not the job he's used to. I'm a people person. I like to be around people. Not having customers and not having my team, I really miss them. I kind of take human connection for granted. Reporter: A veteran of the retail giant for 14 years. Customers come in here to feel beautiful, right? So the responsibility is on us to give that to them. Three, two, one! Reporter: Xavier recently helped launch the company's flagship store in New York City. Come on in! Reporter: With lots of fanfare, serving as a new go-to for celebrities like Kim Kardashian to debut their newest fashion lines. Come on in! Reporter: But a few months later, everything came to a screeching halt. When coronavirus hit New York City hard. The store floors now empty. The cash registers idle. The mannequins undressed. A blow for a company where 70% of their business is done in stores. To suddenly have all of our stores closed, you know, we've been around for 119 years. It's just never happened. Reporter: Nearly overnight, Xavier went from working with customers to filling online orders, as the store has transformed into a fulfillment center. With as long as you've been working for Nordstrom, did you ever think this was something you'd be doing? We were always adjusting to the way the customer was shopping. I just didn't think it would be so abrupt. Reporter: Nord strum Nordstrom like so many retailers has been affected. With almost 300,000 stores across the country shut down. In April alone, the retail industry lost 2.1 million jobs, devastating the economy where one in four Americans work in retail. The fallout is leaving a lasting sting. Neiman Marcus and J crew have filed for bankruptcy. Reporter: The pandemic hit, the retail industry was facing a number of challenges. We as shoppers have been spending more money online, less in stores. The future of America's economy depends on retail, but what will it take to bring the industry back? We go inside small businesses, department stores and of course the malls to get a glimpse of the future of shopping. In Alabama, the future has begun. After five weeks, customers are lined up, waiting for the doors to open at east Dale mall, a hub for the Montgomery, Alabama community. When we open back up, it really, brought a cheer to our hearts saying they're coming back, they're still believing in us and we're still here. Reporter: The mall owner says about two thirds of the stores are open but some of the major department stores remain closed for now. You've got some stores waiting, some corporate stores that are waiting to come back. Reporter: Any traffic is good for the jewelry store owners. It was emotional, and we happy to see it was opening back again. Reporter: This is the first time their doors have closed since they opened over two decades ago. When the pandemic hit, they had no source of income and no online presence for their business. They applied for a loan from the federal government and are still waiting to hear back. We're a mall business. Stores, the main income. Reporter: She is hopeful their business will thrive again. I think we will survive. You can do hard work and people will come in and shop. Reporter: The main attractions like the ice skating rink, child play areas and food court dining area will remain closed for now. The mall operators have doubled staff for cleaning, but there are no mandated masks for shoppers or restrictions on how many shoppers can be in the mall at one time. We'd want you to wear a mask, make sure you're sanitized. We can't control that, but we can control if you're coming into the mall we're cleaning what you're touching. Reporter: Those shopping seem to be adjusting to the new guidelines. This will probably be the new normal for a long time, honest limit as bad as I don't want it to be. It is. We all need to take the standard on doing what's right. Wearing our mask. Keeping our distance. Because if we don't take them standards, it's not going to get no better. If this is the way it's going to have to be, I don't like it, but if this is what we're going to have to do to stay safe and, you know, be alive, then this is what we're going to have to do. Reporter: Some health officials warn that rushing to restart the economy could bring a spike in covid cases. There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation, you will see some cases appear. We're still sort of in this very challenging dynamic wherele a store needs to come up with a protocol, but clearly it's being done in an environment where we still don't have this epidemic under control. Reporter: CEO Eric Nordstrom has navigated the department chain through the latest storms, but the pandemic is proving to be a greater challenge. We've never been through this before. Really, no one's been through this before. We need to really learn every day, learn from local health officials and learn from our Reporter: You guys have started opening up some of those physical locations. Talk to me about the process. We're not going to open all the stores all at once. It really is a local decision. Can we open. But should we open. We have very detailed regimen and protocols around that. Reporter: One of the places where those protocols are in action is here in south Carolina. All right, guys, let's have an awesome day! Hi, guys! Reporter: Think Nordstrom rack in Greenville, one of 32 stores now open, Carol brown welcomes customers. There's something about a store that really needs and we've missed our customers and the customers are missed us. Reporter: In addition to frequent cleaning, they're providing masks for customers and employees. Have a mask. Thank you so much! Reporter: The company has added plexiglass dividers and changed how they handle returned or tried-on merchandise. We're asking anything they tried on be placed in a bin, and we place that and take out of inventory for a period of time. Reporter: 72 hours to be I work in health care. So we have been open and working through this crisis. It's kind of nice to breathe a little bit and do something a little different and support the community where we can. So we are going to get some shampoo. Hair care has been big for our customers. Reporter: Back at Nordstrom's flagship store turned fulfillment site, I follow Xavier. He gives them a scan and drops it in the shipping and packing area. Is it weird to walk through without people in here? It took an adjustment for me in the beginning to hear it echo in there. It does feel weird. Reporter: No telling when this giant New York City store but Xavier will be here when it does. I miss seeing a customer be happy over the things that they have bought and we have suggested to them. I really miss that. Reporter: For "Nightline," Eva pilgrim in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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