Photo: Dan Barton

Photo: Dan Barton

It’s Friday night at the Hudson Valley Mall’s food court. There’s a dozen teenagers sprawled out at the tables, laughing, cursing loudly and even roughhousing with one another. Shopping-fatigued mothers cover the ears of their toddlers dozing in the strollers and direct a hairy eyeball to the gaggle of disruptive teens, but eventually gather up all their purchases to relocate to a teen-free zone. Some even vow never to return on a Friday or Saturday night.

The Hudson Valley Mall wants them back, so its parent company, the Edgewater Management group, is instituting a parental escort policy identical to the policies found at other local malls, such as the Poughkeepsie Galleria, Crystal Run in Middletown, Newburgh Mall and the Danbury Mall. Beginning sometime this spring, the policy will require youth 17 and younger to be accompanied by an adult or guardian 21 or older on Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to close. In a letter from mall manager Terry Parisian, he states that this policy applies to the entire mall property as well, including walkways and roads leading to the mall, as well as the parking lot. The policy does not apply to anchor stores (such as JC Penney or Target) and the movie theater.

This scenario, as Town of Ulster Police Chief Anthony Cruise says, is a oft-recurring theme that has been long damaging the mall’s ambience. Cruise said in the two and a half decades of being a resident and working security at the mall, the environment of loud and obnoxious kids has been plaguing mall security, diminishing sales and creating an uncomfortable and unsavory overall climate. Cruise agrees that the kids themselves are even at risk from possible predators prowling the public area. Cruise is the first to advocate for youth group programs such as Boys and Girls Clubs to offer more alternatives for kids. “I think there needs to be more for kids to do over the weekends,” said Cruise. “We need more available for kids to do to take the onus away from malls and leave retail to them. Kids need a place to gather in a safe environment.”

Parisian explained this week that this policy is being implemented to address “a perception” that the mall is permitting “unruly children” whose poor behavior is thwarting shoppers. “One of the biggest key issues is that there is no particular criminal issue happening here, it’s behavioral,” said Parisian.

Parisian added that Hudson Valley Mall is one of the last malls in the region to implement the policy change because he had felt all along that the behavioral issues could be addressed by security. But thanks to community feedback, he said he recognized the changes needed to occur to bring back thwarted shoppers. Parisian said the parental escort policies have amounted to an increase in sales up to 40 percent in some malls. Parisian said this policy has been so successful that some malls have even extended it to seven days a week. He said he has not heard one negative comment or criticism on the policy thus far.

Babysitting Central

Cruise said parents drop their kids off at the mall, and used the terms “playground” and “babysitting area” to describe how the mall often seems to be regarded. “The mall is a retail shopping district,” said Cruise. “It doesn’t do that as well when you see the kids running around. A lot of people say they don’t like to shop there on weekends when kids are running around … It’s less conducive as a shopping environment and for store profits.”

Cruise said mall security does a very good job, and that the mall pays the town of Ulster to staff the mall with a presence, which is increased during holidays. Cruise said most of the complaints the UPD hears are about the kids gathering, behaving obnoxiously and using foul language loudly. He pointed out that his agency sees more adult shoplifters than kids, even during the ban hours. Cruise said fights, to which the police must respond, typically happen between kids battling during weekend evening hours. Cruise said he’s spoken to chiefs in the other communities that have malls with similar policies, and the chiefs overwhelmingly agree it’s been a good thing. Cruise added that in addition to Poughkeepsie and Middletown, that the Crossroads Mall in Colonie and the U.S. Mall in Syracuse both have the same policy in effect, with positive results.

‘Wilding’ ruins business?

“I had a kiosk for two months at Kingston Valley Mall, and the kids and their ‘wilding’ were the main reason I left after two months,” said former vendor Julie Longstreet. “The night when a couple of junior high girls got into a huge fight next to my kiosk with the resulting 100-plus rabid teens cheering them on and getting caught up in that mess was the night I’d had enough. The one teen girl actually stomped on the head of the other girl — this was all over a boy. There was blood everywhere. Seriously. Girls that age should be having slumber parties, not involved in vicious fights.”

Longstreet said she was strongly in favor of the new policy. She complained that parents drop their kids off at the mall on Friday night with no money and no supervision and the mall security cannot possibly handle it. “Talk to the merchants in the mall. No money is made from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday night. None, because the kids are wild there. The mall is not a playground or daycare for teenagers. It is first and foremost a place of business. So, the curfew is necessary if the mall will survive.”

Some feel the new policy is just a legal and punitive form of ageism. Jacob Waldron of Saugerties just turned 18, but the new policy means that he cannot hang out with any of his younger friends in the evenings anymore at the mall. Waldron feels that all kids are being punished for the sins of a few. “The new rule change is very restrictive and unfair to those who can act as mature, and as responsibly as adults,” said Waldron. “While there are some who can not behave, it shouldn’t have to ruin weekend nights for those who can.”

Kate DeLucia, 20, of Orange County said she remembers when the Crystal Run Galleria at Middletown implemented this policy change and feels the Kingston kids’ pain. “I was not particularly pleased when I was 17 in my senior year, and couldn’t go to the Middletown mall due to this rule,” said DeLucia. “I somewhat understand their thought behind this, but in Orange County what else is there to do? They cut all kinds of school programs and sports. I personally believe this is a big reason why kids get into trouble. They should be creating more teen-friendly activities, not ban them from the mall.”