New York (CNN Business)When coronavirus began to spread across the United States, retailers took action. Social distancing stickers were slapped on floors, mask mandates were implemented and, perhaps more crushingly, free samples disappeared.
But as vaccination rates rise, some are feeling more comfortable about resuming their prior routines — and major retailers are returning aspects of the pre-pandemic shopping experience.
Here’s how shopping is becoming more normal lately:
No more masks
Target (TGT), CVS Health (CVS), Starbucks (SBUX), Walmart (WMT), Trader Joe’s and many other national retailers loosened their facial covering policies in May for vaccinated customers. That’s when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors.
Unvaccinated shoppers, however, are are asked to keep wearing masks in many stores. Similar rules apply for store employees.
Costco (COST) and Sam’s Club are bringing back free food samples, albeit with some pandemic-induced changes: Both warehouse chains announced that they’re installing Plexiglas at sample stations, handing out individually wrapped samples and making them in smaller batches.
Sam’s Club is also introducing food trucks that will hand out samples from its private label outside stores, and the chain is testing other “new ways to sample items” including bringing free tastes to members as they check out at the register.
Food courts are back
Fans of Costco’s food court missed out after Costco shut down seating areas and pared back the menu to hot dogs and pizza for takeout only. But now, the company has brought back the chicken bake and recently began adding back ice cream and smoothies to the menu.
Costco is bringing back tables and chairs in stores that have outdoor seating areas, and indoor seating will be back with more physical separation at most of its 560 US locations as local restrictions allow. Tables will have four seats instead of six or eight and half the seating capacity as before.
In other changes, Costco is also adding new and improved churros to menus, which will be available by July 4. Ice cream is also replacing its frozen yogurt this summer.
Fitting rooms reopen
Target’s fitting rooms reopened at all of its stores on June 1.
“We’ll continue to frequently disinfect and clean our stores throughout the day, as we have throughout the pandemic, and have team members dedicated to high touch areas like fitting rooms,” a company spokesperson told CNN Business.
Kohl’s (KSS), Gap (GPS) and Nordstrom (JWN) also have reopened fitting rooms in recent months, except in areas where they’re prohibited by local rules.
Walmart expanded its hours as of Saturday, and it now opens an hour earlier at 6 am. Pharmacies and vision centers will return to pre-pandemic hours on July 3. The retailer also ditched capacity restrictions and added seats back to its auto care centers.
“As Covid-19 cases leveled out, we expanded our closing time late last year and now, with the number of fully vaccinated Americans growing higher every day, we believe we can adjust hours once again,” the company explained in a release.
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