Xavier McCorkle knows the tendencies of teenagers, and realizes they often mean no harm when they`re cutting up and socializing.
But when they gather in large groups and behave rowdily at Eastridge Mall, which in turn hinders sales at various shops, McCorkle believes it crosses a line. So he`s supportive of a policy taking effect soon that will require teenagers 17 and under to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian on Friday and Saturday nights at the shopping center.
`A lot of them don`t buy nothing. They`re just in the mall playing around, messing with stuff, spilling stuff,` said McCorkle, a manager at FootAction USA in the Gastonia mall. `The older crowd doesn`t want to hear kids cursing, running around and pushing each other while they`re trying to shop. And I need people to come spend their money.`
CityView Commercial, the New York real estate firm that bought Eastridge Mall in 2013, toyed with the idea of such a parental escort policy three years ago. It went so far as to distribute warning flyers to teenagers about that plan, before ultimately not following through with it.
But this time, Eastridge Mall Senior General Manager Lance Sturges said they`re committed. Beginning March 31, the policy will be in effect from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. (or closing time) every Friday and Saturday evening. Teenagers under 17 without parental escorts will be asked to leave the mall and parking lot area, and those who do not comply will be subject to trespassing charges.
The policy will be enforced to some degree by requiring identification from teenagers at checkpoints to mall entrances. Those who enter with parents or guardians will be given color-coded bracelets, and will be required to remain within site of their guardians at all times.
Officially, one parent or legal guardian over the age of 21 will be allowed to escort up to three teenagers — at least one of which must be the child of the guardian.
Eastridge`s new guidelines will be very similar to a Youth Supervision Policy that was implemented at Northlake Mall in Charlotte several years ago. Other shopping centers, such as Carolina Place Mall in Pineville, have chosen to monitor visitor behavior with a blanket code of conduct that dictates when people can be asked to leave.
Eastridge Mall currently has a roughly 84 percent retail occupancy rate. But Sturges, who has 40 years of experience working in malls across the country, said they believe they can do better, both in occupancy and sales revenue. That will require changing the pervading perception among area residents that the mall is not family friendly, he said.
The new program will coincide with a push to market the mall as being `Family Friendly After 4.`
`To sustain ourselves, we have to become as relevant to the community as we can possibly be,` said Sturges. `When we make a decision to spend money, we have to ask, `Will it drive traffic, will that traffic drive sales, and does it match what we`re trying to do with the community?`
Just getting human beings into the mall to hang out for a few hours isn`t the ultimate goal, Sturges said.
`The traffic has to be traffic that`s here to shop,` he said.
It`s common these days for parents to drop their kids off at the mall to spend time with friends. And Sturges said the vast majority of teenagers who visit the shopping center don`t do anything wrong. Security officers spend much of their time, for example, telling teenagers to pull up their pants, he said.
But teenagers also often bring a lot of energy, both vocal and physical, that can escalate in a group setting and be undesirable to people who are just trying to shop, he said.
A group of kids standing in front of a store entrance and laughing together might think they`re doing nothing wrong. But if they`re boisterous, that behavior can irritate older shoppers and deter them from coming back to the mall, Sturges said.
`What we experience is not atypical,` he said. `It`s the nature of retail in the country today.`
The mall plans to get the word out about the new policy in the coming weeks by talking with various community leaders and distributing flyers to shoppers.
Ray Ramchandani has operated Authentiks, an urban fashion store, on the second floor of the mall near Dillards for the last eight years. He said teenagers who flock there on occasional weekend nights bring traffic, and they sometimes buy things. But just as often they don`t.
`I didn`t know about the new policy,` Ramchandani said Wednesday. `But whatever management decides, I`m OK with it. They know what`s going on.`
Gazette readers commenting about the new policy on a Facebook post Wednesday offered mixed emotions. A large number of those who weighed in were supportive of the change.
`About time,` said Alice Humphrey. `Most people like myself stopped going (to the mall) because of the kids running wild. Parents use the mall for a baby-sitting service.`
Others were skeptical about certain details.
`So I guess my 24-year-old son can`t go with his brother, who is 17, because he`s not his parent or legal guardian,` said Pam Frazier. `This rule needs some tweaking.`
And confusion remains about how strictly certain parts of the policy will be applied.
`I have four kids and sometimes it is just me and the kids,` said Robin Rasnake. `I guess I would be told to leave because I don`t have another adult with me for the fourth child.`
McCorkle, the FootAction USA manager, said he saw firsthand how effective this type of policy was when he managed the Foot Locker at Northlake Mall in Charlotte.
`I applaud it,` he said.
Sturges said mall management is confident it will be the right move.
`We think sales are going to go up throughout the mall,` he said. `This is the right thing for the community and for the kids too.`