Lawton's Central Mall says its family friendly, but lately many customers, retailers and police say it has been anything but - especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Wednesday 7News has learned that the mall is trying to change that in order to repair its reputation. But, kids might not be too happy.
Starting Friday, November 2nd, from 5pm until closing, the mall will no longer allow kids under 18 on its property unless they are accompanied by an adult. They're trying to create a renewed sense of safety and security at the mall - so that's when families will want to shop.
Dr. George Stanley says he and his wife literally ran right into trouble when entering a store at the mall. "You could tell right away they were looking for trouble," he says. "And one of them positioned himself so he was right behind my wife, so when she turned around she bumped into him, and they thought this was a wonderful joke."
Stanley says one of the kids even got into his face when he spoke up about their behavior. That same night, he says, a group of girls - linked arm in arm - ran into them in the middle of the mall.
"We have always supported Lawton," he says. "We try to fly Lawton, shop in Lawton, but after that we were really wondering if we wanted to go back to the mall."
But now, mall management is giving the Stanleys a reason to come back. Robert Harkins, Vice President and General Manager of Central Mall told 7News what they're doing to combat this problem. "We'll have an officer at each one of our entry ways coming in from the parking lot and from the department stores on those Friday and Saturday nights at 5pm," he says.
They'll be checking IDs and kids under 18 will be turned away or taken to a "safe area" where they can call a ride to come pick them up. "It's not that we don't want them in the mall," says Harkins. "We do want them in the mall it's just that we prefer that the families come as a unit."
Central Mall is not alone. Just last week, Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City announced a similar measure - as have malls across the country. "We want those families to come to our store and we want them to feel comfortable doing so," says Harkins. "We don't want them to just come into our store and then immediately leave because they don't feel comfortable coming out into the mall. And that's some of the comments I've heard."
Merchants and shoppers hope it will be the last time they have to make those comments. The rules are pretty simple. The mall considers a guardian to be someone over 21 years old - and they will be checking their IDs as well. Management says one guardian will be allowed to escort up to four kids.
There are, however, exceptions according to Central Malls Family Friendly Hours package.
- Youth Employment - Individuals under the age of 18 working in the mall will be granted access without an escort. Proof of employment will be required and he/she must report directly to his/her job and leave upon conclusion of his/her shift.
- Military Offices - Unescorted youth with the intent of visiting an Armed Forces recruiting office may enter and exit through the South Entrance, if after 5pm on Friday or Saturday.