Three hundred people lined up outside the newly-opened Primark at American Dream. On a Thursday. In the midst of a pandemic.
Other retailers, like Hot Topic and Pac Sun, also had customers cued and waiting to to get in to shop for sweatshirts, jeans and other items.
The coronavirus pandemic may have delayed American Dream’s phased opening, but visitors were ready when the 3.3. million square foot complex in East Rutherford finally did open — three months after indoor malls were allowed to reopen and one month after indoor amusements were given permission resume.
American Dream representatives have said they wanted to make the destination as safe as possible before inviting people back.
“The number one thing we wanted to do was to create the safest place outside of your home,” said Mark Ghermezian, Co-Chief Executive Officer of American Dream.
He, like hundreds of other people, wandered American Dream, wearing a mask, following the floor markings that led people in one direction on each side of the bright white halls of the modern building.
“People don’t want to travel,” he said, because of the pandemic. “This is the best thing for locals to do.”
People young and old, couples, families and friends, groups of four or more and less were there in the middle of the day during the week.
“After months of being home — a new mall opened,” shopper Jennifer Nieves told NJ Advance Media, while pushing a baby stroller. “We were excited for it in March and never made it around and came today while my son’s in school.”
The mega-mall started its phased opening last October with its Nickelodeon Universe theme park, The Rink, an NHL regulation-sized ice skating rink and a few kiosks and seasonal attractions — like pumpkin decorating and pictures with Santa. Then in December Big SNOW, the indoor ski slope, opened, followed closely by IT’SUGAR, a three-story candy department store.
Coronavirus closed American Dream down in March, just days before the DreamWorks Water Park and an undisclosed number of stores were to open.
Thursday’s reopening of the facility finally allowed visitors inside the water park and dozens of merchants.
Representatives for American Dream said during a media tour Wednesday that 80 to 100 stores would open Thursday or soon after. NJ Advance Media counted 55 stores doing business on Thursday.
Visitors walked the halls of the vast, modern complex finding stores here and there with their doors open, others still empty and colorful murals hiding ongoing construction.
Patrons posed for Instagram-worthy pictures throughout the property, including in The Secret Garden, with its moss draped arches. They rode mechanical animals around the halls that they rented from Dream Riders. Many carried cups of coffee from Dunkin Donuts, one of a few quick-serve food and beverage stores open. (The others are Cinnabon and Haagen Dazs).
American Dream didn’t respond to questions about how many people turned out for the reopening or at its parks Thursday.
The largest concentration of open stores was on the first level, where Aldo, Hollister, Asics, Torrid, Levi’s, Lush and Zara are located.
A DJ played music near an escalator on the second level, inspiring an impromptu dance party involving employees from Bath & Body Works and Sephora. An employee from nearby MAC Cosmetics looked on from across the hall.
Primark, American Dream’s largest open tenant at about 60,000 square feet, is up on the third level near Urban Planet, an apparel store that is making its New Jersey debut at American Dream. Its parent company also owns Charlotte Russe and Mandee.
The opening is a major moment for American Dream — a development first conceived of in the early 2000s that saw numerous false starts, construction stalls, money problems, and changes in ownership before its current developer, Canadian-based Triple Five, began slowly opening it last year.
Nathaniel King, of Nutley, said he has been following the mall’s lengthy development saga for years.
“It’s cool that it’s finally open,” he said.
American Dream’s tenant list reads like a lot of other shopping malls, there’s an Abercrombie Kids (open), a Foot Locker (not yet open), an Old Navy (open) and a Lululemon (not yet open).
But there are other tenants that make it unique. There’s an Amazon 4-star (not yet open) which will feature a rotating inventory of 4-star or better products from the popular website. Scoots and Sounds opened its first retail store at American Dream. The formerly wholesale-only company sells bluetooth earbuds and Fiat brand electric scooters that go 15mph for about $400.
And don’t forget the attractions. Nickelodeon Universe, DreamWorks Water Park, two mini golf courses, the ice skating rink and the ski and snowboard park.
Princeton residents Kyle Majkowski and Richard Wannamaker came last year to visit the amusement park and plan to keep coming back to pilot the mall’s new features.
“We have plenty of malls down there,” Majkowski told NJ Advance Media. “But we would take the 45, 50-minute drive just to come up here because it’s so big, and it’s more than just a mall. It’s an entertainment center.”
The developer’s vision is just that, Ghermezian said. More Disney, less shopping center.
“We’re not just putting a ferris wheel in a mall and calling it an experience,” Ghermezian said. “We’re pioneers.”
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Allison Pries may be reached at [email protected].