After weeks of self-imposed isolation, more and more people were venturing out last week as stores — including several at Northpark Mall — reopened for business.

It was great to see vehicles on the parking lots of retail establishments, including many more restaurants that have reopened with limited seating, in addition to curbside pickup and delivery. Joplin is getting back on its feet, but it is nowhere near where it was. This is going to take some time and some adjustment.

There are still quite a few restaurants that have not reopened on Main Street, Range Line Road and elsewhere in the city. Imagine being in the position of having to purchase all of your inventory at once to reopen your doors. If you make that investment and your timing is off, you could be in trouble. That is probably why some restaurant owners are waiting for conditions to improve. Some are probably wondering whether they can even come back with limited seating. Restaurant margins are narrow. That's why volume is so important to the bottom line.

What's happening now reminds of the time immediately after the tornado. Joplin lost about 25 restaurants to the storm. It took about two to three years for Joplin to recover from that loss and go on to add many more restaurants. The restaurants that survived the tornado did well because they had fewer competitors. But as more restaurants came back, some of those surviving restaurants found that they could no longer compete. The same could be true here as more restaurants return to the market. Any way you look at it right now, it's a tough go for restaurants.

That's why it was so enjoyable to go to not one but two restaurants last week. Yes, I'm living large again — but with a face mask and social distancing. I'll tell you right now that if people continue to get close to me while I'm waiting in a line, I'm going to start carrying a yardstick with me. It will be accompanied by my version of the Beatles' "Get Back.''

Two weeks ago, I had a wonderful lunch at the new Golden Corral cafeteria. Last week, I went back to one of my regulars, Texas Roadhouse, and to It's Greek to Me, my favorite stop in the food court at Northpark Mall. Visiting these restaurants again reminded me of how important restaurants are in terms of the way we live our lives now. Years ago, there was only a handful of restaurants in all of Joplin, and most of them were home grown. The popular franchises were still on the horizon. People prepared their meals at home. For me, going out to eat will always be a special event.

Texas Roadhouse was the last restaurant I visited before the shutdown. Restaurant staff were on top of the situation back then. Now, like so many other restaurants, they have adapted to a new norm. Outside of the front door, you are greeted by someone who takes your name and cellphone number. When your table becomes available, you get a text that you are good to go. It worked just fine. Inside, you are seated at a table that is at least 6 feet away from any other diner. Otherwise, it was business as usual — good service and good food. Two people can eat well here for about $20.

When I saw that vehicles were parked outside of Northpark Mall, I couldn't help but wonder what it was like inside of the mall. The last time I visited the mall, it was a ghost town. So I did a complete walkabout. At the mall, stores are limiting the number of customers they permit inside at one time. There were lines of people waiting outside of several stores when I visited the mall on Wednesday. Social distancing was being respected by those in line. The clerks in the stores were wearing face masks. Some people in those lines were wearing face masks, but most were not. Generally speaking, it appeared to me from what I saw at the mall that young people were less likely to be wearing face masks than any other age group.

Not all of the stores operating in the mall have reopened yet, but some of them have, including Macy's and J.C. Penney. It appeared for a while there that both of these stores might have questionable futures in Joplin, but they appear to be holding their own for now. After the closure of Sears, that's fantastic news for the mall.

The food court was busy and most every vendor was open, but there were fewer tables and chairs. The poor guy who was responsible for sanitizing the tables was being run ragged. I could not resist the temptation for some Greek food while I was there. So I visited It's Greek to Me. I got a gyro sandwich, some tabouli and some cabbage rolls for $14. I got enough food for at least two meals. What a value.

As I watched the foot traffic in the food court, it seemed like people were just glad to be doing something outside of their house for a change. I know I felt that way. You can get out now. Just be careful — and carry a yardstick if you have to.

Coming down

It's been there for so long it's going to be strange not seeing it there. The former Howard's Tire shop at Turkey Creek Boulevard and North Range Line Road is being dismantled to salvage the wood that was used to build it.

Workers at the site told me the building was constructed in about 1938 to 1940. The property, which has been on the market for years, recently changed hands. Details to come.

If you have news about something that’s happening on Range Line Road or Main Street, call 417-623-3480, ext. 7250; or send an email to wkennedy@joplinglobe.com; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at 417-623-8598.

Wally Kennedy is a reporter and columnist for The Joplin Globe.

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