Steve Renehan stopped by the mall yesterday to pick up a few things: a pizza cutter, some good books and a woman.
AWith the first two in the bag, he slouched against a store window searching for the third.
The scenery's nice," said the Irvington carpenter as several young women walked by. "And I ain't talking about the potted plants."
Instead, he was talking about the more than 600 singles at the Hunt Valley Mall yesterday. The center gave new meaning to the idea of one-stop shopping by playing host to Single Mingle, a festival for the unhitched that featured everything from palm readers to workshops on how to be married a year from today.
Anne Holmes, a 35-year-old paralegal, spent weeks planning for the event. A Crystal Gayle look-alike with long brown hair, she had trouble selecting just one outfit to mingle in, deciding instead to start out in a teal sun dress and change into a black floral outfit for evening.
"I really wanted the opportunity to meet men in a non-threatening environment. And I love to shop," said Ms. Holmes, a 35-year-old paralegal.
But would she meet a man here who excited her as much as a Macy's one-day sale?
"This is even better," she said.
She enjoyed the day's events -- the "simply divine" date clothes fashion show and the celebrity singles kissing booth (Hershey's kisses only) -- and absolutely raved about "Love Chef" Francis Anthony, who peppered his cooking demonstration with talk of the sensuality of spices.
Some singles took the day off to mingle, while others simply slipped over on their lunch hour or after work. It seemed to take many people awhile to warm to the idea of mixing retail and romance, with gawking far more prevalent than mingling yesterday afternoon.
"Here I am, so where are the men?" asked Marilyn Aronson, 63, as she paid her $1 registration fee and looked down a sparsely populated stretch of the mall.
Her 50-year-old friend, Dorothy Suter, offered an explanation. "At our age, it's hard. They're all either married, confirmed bachelors or dead."
But Martin Gallatin, who led workshops based on his book, "Lover Shopping for Men and Women: How To Be Married A Year From Today," assured all that prospects were good. In fact, he ranks malls above health clubs, dating services and bars as hot spots to meet mates.
"There are lots of possibilities to meet people in the mall," said the New York sociologist. "And the one advantage is that if you do meet somebody, you can go to the food court and have a cup of coffee."
He spent yesterday morning surveying the mall and had suggestions for strategic spots to bump into Mr. or Ms. Right. High on his list were the food court, card stores (for men on the prowl) and electronic stores (for women). Places to avoid: toy stores and lingerie shops. ("It's too personal," he said of the latter. "The stores are not overly large, and you're too visible.")
Larry Burton may have picked the best place of all to meet single women -- just outside Dr. Gallatin's workshop. Mr. Burton, 35, came away a big winner, having talked to eight women and picked up a telephone number and an invite to a party.
Yet he was still lamenting the ones who got away. "The women I was really attracted to I didn't talk to, but I had a very good time," said the telemarketing representative from Pikesville.
Mall executives decided to organize the event, a benefit for the Maryland Food Committee, a demographic study showed nearly half their customers are single. Single Mingle was held on a Thursday because "that's the night to go out and find a date for Saturday," said marketing director L. Joan Allen, who also happens to be single.
But many weren't looking for just a date; they wanted perfection. Women were searching for men like Mel Gibson and Tom Selleck; guys were after the spitting image of Christie Brinkley or Julia Roberts.
If Mr. Renehan, the carpenter, had his way, he would have found "Miss April." But by afternoon, he was setting more realistic goals.
"I told my brother the other night, 'I could have any woman I pleased, I just don't please any,' " he said. "I came here to see if I could find someone to please."
He was having a little trouble getting started and lingered in a corner near a fire extinguisher. "I don't get a chance to meet many people in my line of work," said Mr. Renehan, 38, who runs his own business. "The only other places are bars. And after you've had a few drinks and played with your swizzle stick 16 times, you start to feel goofy."
Single Mingle, though, clearly wasn't everyone's idea of a good time. Frank Hawkins, a 31-year-old waiter in the mall, said, "I think it's desperate and pathetic, and I'd never do it."
And Jeff Nusinov and Chandra Parker found it, well, superfluous.
Just two weeks ago, the teen-agers met in the parking lot of this very mall when Chandra waved to Jeff and he followed her nearly all the way to her Hereford home before she stopped the car to say hello.
As they stood in front of Herman's Bakery yesterday, Jeff looked at the singles-filled crowd, hugged Chandra and said, "I'm glad that's not us."