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Shopping centers showing mallrats the door

A downtown Cleveland mall is implementing one of the nation’s toughest curfews on teenagers, joining a growing national trend among shopping centers that say loud, unruly youngsters drive away paying customers.
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A downtown Cleveland mall is implementing one of the nation’s toughest curfews on teenagers, joining a growing national trend among shopping centers that say loud, unruly youngsters drive away paying customers.

The mall, Tower City Center, said it would ban anyone under 18 after 2:30 p.m. unless he or she was accompanied by an adult.

“The office tenants and the customer base would like to see less youth in groups, and we’re hoping that our expansion of the code of conduct will accommodate that,” said Lisa Krieger, the mall’s general manager for retail.

Tower City is the 51st of the nation’s 1,104 large retail shopping centers to impose a curfew on minors, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. But it is one of the few whose policy will be in effect seven days a week; most mall curfews restrict teenagers only on weekends or after 6 p.m., the council said.

The curfew is part of Tower City’s new Parental Involvement Program, which Krieger said was in keeping with “a national trend as retail centers seek to create a family-friendly atmosphere.”

Teens, activists cry foul
The mall began phasing in the curfew on Thursday with an information campaign. It will go into full effect Dec. 1. Employees under 18 will be issued photo IDs to prove they are allowed in the mall after 2:30.

Adult shoppers at the mall generally welcomed the new policy.

“I know the kids can be kind of intimidating, especially for people that are from out of town or from outside of the city,” said Tishara Clement of Cleveland. “A lot of them are just unsupervised and kind of unruly, so I think it would be a good idea.”

“I think [Tower City] started out on a real high note, but over time it has deteriorated,” said Fred Collins, also of Cleveland.

But teenagers asked about the new policy used words like “bogus” to describe it, an assessment shared by Black on Black Crime, a non-profit Cleveland group that said the policy unfairly targeted minority shoppers at the mall, whose clientele is largely African-American.

“We have many pertinent and important questions which our community needs answers to concerning our kids,” said the group’s founder, Art McKoy. He said the organization was considering calling for a weeklong boycott of Tower City.

Some malls reconsider curfews
More than half of the 51 malls that impose curfews have instituted them in the past three years, and dozens more are considering the idea, the shopping center council said. The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., introduced the concept in 1996.

Since then, the idea has spread across the country, but as it has, some management companies are reconsidering as civil rights and youth activist groups organize opposition. The National Youth Rights Association, a non-profit organization based in Washington, maintains a database of malls that restrict teenage shoppers, and the League of Young Voters organized a protest in April against a curfew at Mayfair Mall in Milwaukee.

Lance-Kashian & Co., managers of The Shops at River Park in Fresno, Calif., suspended plans to impose a curfew this summer after hearing opposition at a series of public meetings with youth groups. Moreover, the city attorney also raised questions about the measure’s constitutionality, an issue that has not been settled by the courts.

Dealing with rambunctious teenagers presents a quandary for shopping centers and malls, many of which have become popular hangouts for teens with few other after-school options.

Teenagers spend more time at malls than any other age group — more than 97 minutes per visit — according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. And while they spend less than other groups, the council said, they still drop an average of $56.50 per trip.

Managers balance commerce and comfort
But shoppers and managers say large groups of teens can also drive away other shoppers. Tower City’s management firm said its policy was an attempt to curb an epidemic of “vulgar language, running, screaming, walking in large groups that obstruct others, fighting, loitering, and disrespecting people and property.”

There is also a larger public safety concern.

In February 2004, four police agencies were called to the mall to quell a disturbance after a fight between two girls in the center’s movie theater escalated into what authorities called a “riot” involving hundreds of 13- to 16-year-olds.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department reported in December that mall security directors named loitering teenagers as their No. 1 problem — ahead of planning for terrorist attacks, shoplifting, burglary and vandalism.

On balance, said Krieger, of Tower City, many mall managers are concluding that it’s worth the loss of vitality and sales from younger visitors to lure back adults and out-of-towners who may be intimidated by loud groups of teenagers.

“The centers that have done this are really seeing their centers go up, and they’re seeing more families wanting to come back,” she said.