The Mall: It’s a microcosm, with shopping

Christmas scenes like this one are part of the social system on display at the Mesa Mall.

Santa roams the Mesa Mall.

Mesa Mall is a hot topic right now.

As mall stores, including one actually named Hot Topic, brace for “Black Friday,” Nov. 26, economic prognosticators across the country have tried to gauge how malls nationwide will fare this holiday season.

However, Mesa Mall is much more than a gathering place for holiday shoppers on one day of the year. Spend some time in the mall on an average week day or weekend and you might be surprised at who comes to Mesa Mall and why.

Here’s a hint: Not everyone is looking to shop.

“Mall walkers” arrive before stores even open.


Security unlocks the mall doors at 6 a.m. daily for mall walkers, and there are people who come exactly at 6 a.m., or even a little before, said Jammie McCloud, director of marketing for the mall.

Maria Anderson, 69, has walked the mall’s corridors since it opened in 1980. If anyone knows that the lap distance of all five wings is slightly less than a mile and can be done in about 15 minutes at a brisk pace, Anderson does.

Not only does Anderson get her exercise done before 8 a.m., she has created a network of friends who meet at the mall to walk, talk, share recipes and drink coffee, which is typically made at home and brought to the mall because there is nowhere to get coffee inside the mall at that hour.

Marilyn Brown, Judy Campbell and Ollie Walker are part of the network Anderson has developed. The women typically walk five or six times a week for 30–45 minutes starting at 7 a.m. The weather is always great inside the mall.

At 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16, Anderson and her friends were among several dozen mall walkers, mostly seniors. As they exercised, maintenance and security crews worked.

The mall music had a holiday flair befitting the approaching holidays.

In general, Anderson and her friends like the mall’s music. Other times they ignore it. Brown joked that the mall should pump John Philip Sousa marches through the speakers to give the 7 a.m. shift a little hop in its step.

When done walking, the women adjourn to the mostly empty Cafe Court to drink coffee, never decaffeinated. Sometimes, as was the case recently when Brown celebrated her birthday, someone brings sweet treats.

By 8:30 a.m. the women and their husbands, who sat at their own table, were gone.

These mall experts — they’ve spent a combined 85 years as mall walkers — won’t be caught at the mall on a weekend afternoon or on “Black Friday,” especially. There are too many people around then, they said.

At 10 a.m., the mall was open for business. By 11 a.m. the mall took on a whole new look.

About 10:55 a.m., nearly 50 students from Grand Junction High School filed into Cafe Court on their 50-minute lunch break. Sometimes there are more of them, it just depends on the day, several students said.

Don’t ask high schoolers, especially juniors and seniors, why they drive to the mall to eat. “Duh” is pretty much the verbal and facial response.

But if it must be asked ... the reason they come to the mall for lunch is the variety, said junior Rachel Chamberlain, 16.

She wanted an egg roll. Her three dining companions did not. While Chamberlain ate her egg roll, Nelson Rock, 17, picked at other Chinese food; Aaron Rock, 17, ate Subway; and Christian Rock, 17, had A&W.

The high schoolers weren’t at the mall to hang out. That scene came later, after school let out.

At 3:30 p.m., the majority of shoppers were younger than 20 and the focus was on being seen and drinking beverages from Orange Julius or Starbucks. Pockets of young people were at the video game store GameStop and American Eagle.

The largest adult concentration was inside department stores and the Mesa County Clerk & Recorder’s Department of Motor Vehicles branch.

In Clock Court, Santa Claus just talked to his elves.

By 6:40 p.m., shoppers dwindled, but the focus of those still there was on actually shopping. Judging by the number of plastic bags with different logos, people were finding what they needed, or wanted, and had little or no wait when checking out.

“Every day is just a little different, depending on the time of year, the day of the week and even the weekend,” McCloud said.


Given that Black Friday is a people-watching utopia, and most days of the year can’t compare, any random Saturday at the mall isn’t a shabby alternative.

There are many noticeable differences between week day and weekend.

There are more people from out of town on Saturdays. There are more people off work and shopping, running errands or hanging out.

But first thing in the morning on a Saturday, the mall walkers are there, albeit fewer than on a week day, McCloud said.

By 8 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20, Brown, Walker and Anderson were at the mall. For them, there is little difference between a Tuesday or a Saturday in terms of their early-morning schedule.

A couple other mall walkers walked over to JC Penney, which opened early that morning.

Between 10 a.m. and noon, families, mothers on shopping missions and groups of moms filtered in and out of the mall.

By 12:30 p.m. it was difficult to find an open parking spot on the Target side of the mall or an open table in Caf&233; Court.

The scene was hopping.

The holiday music so easily heard in the morning hours was almost inaudible, particularly near the children’s play area.

Over in Clock Court, Santa Claus intently listened to children share holiday wishes. No long chats with the elves on this day.

About 50 percent of the adult shoppers were holding shopping bags. About 70 percent of all people in the mall were talking on cell phones.

By 5 p.m., the dominant shopping demographic was younger people. Hot Topic, Wet Seal and Claire’s had a healthy crowds of teenagers.

And the benches in the mall’s corridors were reserved, apparently, for adult men.

All day, there was an influx of customers to jewelry stores. Some people might be in for a very merry Christmas.

Of course, there is no telling what Mesa Mall will look like on the “busiest shopping day of the year.”

Perhaps a few of the mall walkers will brave the crowds. Teenagers will be there, no doubt. And a mix of families and friends looking for great deals all in the comfort of a climate-controlled environment.

Happy shopping, or walking, or browsing, or whatever.


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