It's 10 a.m. at Harundale Mall, and they're coming in by the handfuls -- some sporting sneakers and baseball caps, some toting cell phones, almost all over 60.
This is where the elderly in Glen Burnie hang out.
The East Coast's first enclosed mall, once bustling and now on the verge of closing, has become a haven for those who appreciate a slower pace. It's not the usual mall scene, with bunches of teen-agers and blaring music.
At nearly any time of the day or evening in the nearly 40-year-old mall you will find a more mature crowd cruising the corridors, talking at the tables, playing the lottery and strolling through the stores.
It's a way of life soon to end. The Columbia-based Manekin Corp., which agreed two weeks ago to buy the mall, plans to turn it into a strip shopping center.
"Right now we don't even want to think about [the closing] because we don't know what will happen," said Miriam Rudy, 82. Each morning she, her husband, Frank, relatives and friends gather near Betty's Bake Shop for hot java and laughs.
Their table is one of seven where older folks share their mornings. They call themselves the Breakfast Bunch. Some of them have lives rooted in the mall.
Hamilton Blackstone, 81, who prefers the tables at the north end of the mall near Norm's Deli, said he helped lay bricks during construction of the mall, which began in 1958.
"I come here most every day to talk to people -- just to be doing something," he said. "They keep talking about it's going to close soon. It's going to hurt me. I like this place."
Mary Matter, 65, retired last year as a cook in the Italian Delight restaurant in the mall. She had worked at the shop, which has had many names over the years, since the day the mall opened. Her son, Robert Sweeney Jr., now 47, got his first job there busing tables at age 14.
"I don't shop at Marley Station," Matter said.
The Rouse Co. built the mall for $10 million in the late 1950s and for decades it was a bustling enterprise. But the opening of the flashy Marley Station mall, three miles down Ritchie Highway, in 1987 was the beginning of Harundale Mall's demise.
Today, only about a dozen stores remain open. Half of them -- like Chat Street, a skateboard shop, and Athletic X-Press, a sporting apparel store -- cater to a nearly nonexistent young crowd.
"All these athletic stores, we don't need none of these," said Ron Baker, 58.
The die-hard patrons know the mall's glory days are gone, but they come back for a safe, familiar atmosphere that's close to home and senior-friendly.
"You go to Marley Station, the young ones up there, they'll knock you down," said Zigmunt Slesinski, 73, who walks around Harundale each morning for exercise.
Harundale has plenty of places to sit, the shop owners know the seniors by name and, says Emily Mazan of Betty's Bake Shop.
"It's the only place you can get some coffee and sit and talk without getting thrown out real quick," Baker said.
Seniors appreciate that. According to 1995 census data, the mall is surrounded by a community where more than 11 percent of the people are older than 65.
"Spiked hairdos, green hair, purple hair, weirdos -- when you go to Marley Station, you have a freak show," Sweeney said. "When you come here, you don't have that. Never did, even when it was bustling."
Matter chimed in: "I believe in going with the times, but you still need to look out for the people who made this mall."
Harundale draws so many seniors that workers for the Pascal Senior Center go to the mall to persuade seniors to attend their programs a few miles away on Dorsey Road. But it hasn't been a very successful effort, said Dr. Carole Baker, director of the county Department of Aging.
L The problem at the senior center is parking, Mrs. Rudy said.
"You try and get parking spaces, and you can't get it," she said. At Harundale, Mrs. Rudy and her husband park at the door.
"We all stick to the mall," Matter said. "If they tear it down, I'll be holding the last brick."
Pub Date: 5/22/97