Detroit-area mall joins trend by restricting hours for teens

Officials say youngsters daunt other shoppers, thus prompting curfew

April 28, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

DETROIT - Tired of teen-agers who intimidate other shoppers, a major mall in metro Detroit is clamping down with a curfew that aims to keep unruly kids out and eager consumers in.

Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Mich., the second-largest mall in Michigan, plans to prohibit all patrons ages 17 and younger from entering its center after 5 p.m. daily unless they're accompanied by an adult 21 or older.

The ban goes into effect June 1 and is part of a nationwide trend of curfews for kids at shopping malls.

Every weekend, young people come in droves to the Dearborn mall to hang out, a teen-age ritual that bothers some business owners.

"It scares our customers away," said Kimberly Polo, manager of Coreys Jewel Box. "People tell me, `I don't come here because of the kids.'"

On Friday and Saturday nights at Fairlane, about 2,600 teen-agers are roaming through the mall at any given time, said the center's security director, Arnold Wicker.

Most of them don't shop, and 25 to 300 of them are ejected each night for disturbing the peace.

Many of the teens are black, which adds a racial element to the situation.

The mall, in mainly white Dearborn, is less than a mile from mostly black Detroit. Race has been an issue in previous incidents at Fairlane, most recently in 2000, when the death of a black shoplifter - albeit at the hands of a black security guard - sparked controversy and protests from black Detroiters.

But "it doesn't matter if they're white, black or polka-dot; 2,600 kids is an intimidating image," Wicker said. It makes life "uncomfortable for a middle-age shopper."

Mall officials said that their move has nothing to do with race, and that the policy will be applied equally to everyone.

They announced the plan yesterday with signs in English, Arabic and Spanish.

Under the Adult Supervision Policy, if security guards believe that patrons look underage, they can ask them to either leave or show an ID that proves they're 17 or older.

In recent years, the mall has turned into a "baby-sitting service," where parents drop off their kids and leave them unsupervised, Fairlane General Manager Catherine O'Malley said.

"It's a safety issue," O'Malley said.

Across the United States, malls are adopting curfews to keep the peace, said Patrice Duker of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The trend started at the gigantic Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., which established a policy in 1996 that requires youths younger than 16 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian age 21 or older after 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Fairlane policy is for every night.

In February last year, the Oak Hollow Mall in Hyde Point, N.C., began requiring all kids 13 and younger to be accompanied by a parent. In April last year, the Carousel Center in Syracuse, N.Y., began requiring shoppers younger than 18 to be accompanied by a parent on Friday and Saturday nights.

In Dearborn, Fairlane's move brought a mixed reaction.

The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said the new policy infringes on the rights of both children and parents.

"We're generally opposed to curfews that treat all minors as if they're criminals," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU.

But Polo and others who work in the mall said they welcome the move.

"They're so loud, it's unbelievable," she said while tending to a display of sterling silver rings on sale. "It's a lot of swearing."

Even some stores that sell mostly to teens approve of the new policy.

"I'm glad they're doing it, even though our store sells a lot of things for kids," said Cassandra Murphy, a saleswoman at Claire's, an accessories store. "There's a lot of shoplifting that goes on. There's so many little things in the store, they can grab things without us seeing."

Murphy said sales will actually increase because other shoppers will feel more comfortable.

O'Malley, the mall's general manager, said research shows the same thing.

According to mall studies, stores that cater to teen-agers at other malls that enacted similar curfews saw an initial drop in sales.

But, said O'Malley, "they have come back and been even more successful."

Teen girls often hit the Wet Seal store, looking for the latest trends in clothing and accessories.

Manager Cherica Drake said she expects the new policy to slow business, but not for long.

"I think they'll probably get used to it and want to shop here anyway," Drake, 31, said. "They'll just bring their parents or older siblings."

Drake said she has grown tired of seeing fights at the mall every Saturday night during her three years there.

The police, she said, became a necessity.

Still, some are miffed about the new policy.

"Everyone likes coming to the mall," said Jeeniva Howze, 16, of Detroit. "That's where everyone hangs out."

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