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It's a mall world

February 24, 2001

It's a mall world



By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer


HALFWAY - The aromas of Chinese food and pizza waft across the promenade while vendors offer passersby free samples of sweets or chicken.

Snippets of chatter intermingle with bursts of electronic noise and the sound of children's excitement emanating from the toy store.

Teens are "cruising," congregating and flirting while young mothers push strollers and an elderly man naps on the cushioned sofa.

For many people the mall is primarily a place to shop. But it is also a community center where teens hang out, residents walk for exercise, and friends and neighbors socialize during chance encounters.

"You always see people you know," said Mary Frances Furr, 60, of Charles Town, W.Va. On this trip to Valley Mall with her granddaughter, Furr ran into a friend from church.

Herb Kief, 72, always runs into friends at Martinsburg Mall, but not by chance. He regularly meets other retirees from Corning as well as Brown Funeral Home and Berkeley County schools for coffee and conversation by the carousel.

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The gang talks about NASCAR, golf, the XFL, the XFL's cheerleaders, doctors' bills and their wives. They don't discuss politics.

"We try to stay away from that and religion," Kief said.

While each has his own "honey, do" list from his wife, they are more inclined to sit around and talk about it than they are to actually do it.

Three days a week they converse with three women who stop for a break from their 2-mile walk through the mall.

"We just catch up on families and guests and things that interest us," said Rose, a Corning retiree who refused to provide her last name.

Rose said she goes to Martinsburg Mall for her morning exercise, but when it comes to shopping she's more inclined to go to the bigger Valley Mall in Halfway.

Malls have been gathering places for years, but several people interviewed said they believe that custom has grown recently at the Valley Mall with the addition of a new wing with a 16-screen movie theater and a food court.

On the weekend the food court is bustling with activity; on weekdays couples can be seen meeting for lunch.

Almost anytime, the employees at Teriyaki Temple and the neighboring Cajun Grill are proffering dueling toothpicks with samples of No. 2 Kato chicken or No. 1 bourbon chicken to entice passersby.

June Moore, 65, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., visited Valley Mall every week when it became the first mall in the Tri-State area in 1974. Now she visits every other week.

"I like it better since they made it bigger. I like the food court," Moore said.

Megan Koontz, 14, of Sharpsburg, and Cindy Smallwood, 14, of Hagerstown, said they come to the mall almost every day to hang out with friends and meet new ones.

"We usually see people at the food court and we like to go to movies," said Koontz, who occasionally shops in the mall.

Susan Angle, 48, of Greencastle, Pa., takes advantage of the mall's food court and benches during her breaks from Hecht's, where she is on her feet most of the day.

"I guess I like being around the people, talking to them," Angle said.

Norris Sword, 75, of Hagerstown, and Ted Gilardi, 83, of Outer Drive, go to the mall at least once a week to sit and wait for their wives. The two recently were sitting on neighboring benches when they struck up a conversation about where young people are going to find high-wage jobs in the area.

"I don't know his name. He don't know mine," said Sword, waiting for his wife to pick up a blouse at Hecht's.

"Sometimes you meet congenial people. Sometimes you just sit and look. It's interesting. I like to watch people," Sword said.

Gilardi was waiting for his wife to get her hair done at the Bon Ton, a Saturday ritual for her to "pretty up" for church.

"She has a standing appointment for 3 o'clock," he said.

Sometimes Gilardi, a Mack Trucks retiree, comes to the mall with his wife and her daughter so he can sit and watch their bags while they continue shopping.

"I just talk to people," Gilardi said.

If you're looking to strike up a conversation about politics, the mall or the economy, Gilardi will be in his usual spot in front of the Bon Ton Saturday at 3 o'clock for his standing appointment with the bench.

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