Victoria Mall walkers upset about new hours (w/video)
Feb. 6, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 5, 2014 at 8:06 p.m.
Jimmy Barnett paused during his early morning ritual at Popcorn Plus in the Victoria Mall to start a petition.
The document doesn't call for any radical or political change, but it's still one Barnett is passionate about.
"Few things have upset me as much as this," the 78-year-old man said.
A group of mall walkers said they were shocked to discover Wednesday morning that mall doors will remain locked until 9 a.m. starting Monday - two hours later than what had been the traditional access time for them.
"It was a hornet's nest," Barnett said.
Coles Hull, marketing manager for Hull Storey Gibson Companies, which purchased the property in 2003, said the later opening time was a policy change at more than 20 properties the company owns in eight states.
The decision had been considered for about a year, she said, and is one company officials believe will add to the experience walkers and shoppers have at Victoria Mall.
"The new mall walker hours have been established to ensure the mall is fully operational and properly staffed," she said.
Barnett has been using Victoria Mall as a means for exercise and socializing for the past 18 years.
He walks 3 miles a day - more than four laps around the mall - and said he and other avid walkers will have nowhere else to go.
"I don't know that there are any alternatives," Barnett said.
Hull understands it will be hard for people to make adjustments to their exercise schedule, but she said there are other options.
"Maybe there's a local YMCA, a local park, another indoor facility that they can use," she said.
The other option she offered was walkers pushing their exercise routine to a later time. Victoria Mall will be open for 12 hours, which she said is enough time for a workout.
"The well-being of all involved was our primary focus," she said.
Thursday morning, Barnett and a group of mall walkers met to collect signatures for a petition they hope will persuade the company to retract the new policy.
"I don't know how many we'll get, but we can give it a try," he said. As of Thursday night, the group had collected 122 signatures.
Gail Richter, 68, signed the petition Thursday morning before her walk. She walks six days a week but said that if she loses those two hours because of the new policy, it's going be hard to include her exercise.
"Half of the day is gone by 9 when you wake up at 5," she said.
She's been walking at the mall since it opened. Before that, she used to walk outdoors and has since become accustomed to the climate-controlled environment. Walking outdoors can be limiting, she said.
A number of petition supporters have used walking as a means of recovery from injury or illness or to improve their health.
"If they (the mall company) were concerned for our well-being, they would let us exercise," said Norman Neureuther, 87. The World War II veteran often joins Barnett and others to chat over coffee after a morning stroll.
Popcorn Plus manager Diana Reichert, 56, said the mall walkers have been great to have around in the morning. The walkers come in before she opens the store, but they've built a strong relationship over the years.
Because other stores aren't yet open, she said, the walkers brew coffee at her shop and help her open the corner concession stand.
"They're like extended family," Reichert said.
When she heard the news about the new mall-walker hours, she said she wasn't pleased.
"It affects so many people," she said. "No one is happy about it."
Ultimately, it's for the safety and security of patrons, Hull said.
Though there was no incident that triggered the change, she said there is a lot of potential for problems when people enter a venue that is not fully operational.
"We want everyone who comes to the mall to have an enjoyable experience, and we feel like we can't provide that when we aren't fully open," Hull said.
Because walkers try to maintain a steady pace, Barnett said, dodging shoppers can be hard.
"I've walked in the afternoon, and you have to walk around people," he said.
He said cutting hours means not only losing access to physical activity but losing the fellowship between walkers.
"Since I started walking, I've made a lot of friends and a whole new family," Barnett said. "If it weren't for this mall, I don't think we would all be friends today."