Countryside Mall will open at 8 a.m. instead of 7 for walkers and skaters, a decision that prompts some grumbling.
By CHRISTINA K. COSDON
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2001
CLEARWATER -- Tightening security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Countryside Mall won't open to walkers or skaters until 8 a.m. starting Monday, forcing some of the mall's early-morning regulars to adjust their schedules.
Even though most of its stores don't open until 10 a.m., the mall's doors have been unlocked for years at 7 a.m. to allow walkers to pace the interior and skaters to take private lessons on the mall's signature ice rink.
But more controls are needed now, mall managers say.
"Under normal circumstances, the mall management felt confident about the security that they had, but these aren't normal times," said Bill Frederick, senior consultant with Public Communications, a Tampa public relations firm representing the mall.
"Virtually every business and institution in the country is taking a look at keeping their customers and employees safe," he said.
At Countryside Mall, the hour between 7 and 8 a.m. is busy with delivery trucks and cleaning crews. "Management felt they needed to get a better handle on who was there at that time," Frederick said.
The mall also would have needed to add security, Frederick said, to stay open at 7 a.m.
But many mall walkers, unhappy to be losing an hour of exercise time, say they served as an unofficial security force.
Eion Corrie of Clearwater, a three-year mall walker who, before retiring, worked in security and is a military special forces veteran, says having walkers in the mall makes it more secure.
Bob Furney of Dunedin agrees. He has walked the mall in the early morning for two years, and says of the regulars: "We know when there is someone who's not part of us. I don't see how opening an hour later is going to make it safer."
Furney, who has had a double lung transplant, wears a mask when walking and for medical reasons is not permitted to be in crowds.
The opening change also affects skating students.
Thursday will be 10-year-old Ashley Huff's last early morning skating lesson. Her mother, Pam Huff, has taken Ashley to lessons at the mall for five years, then taken her to school at 8:45 a.m. at Palm Harbor Elementary.
Ashley, taught by Nadine Pearen, now competes in local, national and world competitions. "She'll have to skate at 7:30 at night now, when there's a lot more people on the rink and it's harder to choreograph programs," Mrs. Huff said. "Ashley is an early morning person. This is when she does her best. Skating is her life, she lives for this."
The mall also has been popular with the working crowd, who find it a convenient place to squeeze in a before-work walk.
Sharon Hodges, a school bus driver, says her only free time during the week is from 7 to 8 a.m. -- just before her first run to Countryside High and her second run to Highland Lakes Elementary.
"I had an angioplasty two years ago and had been having mini heart attacks," said the 46-year-old Clearwater resident. "I need to walk for my health and that hour is the only time I have. It energizes me, I've lost weight and my medical reports are looking better."
Frederick sympathizes, but points out: "The mall is not a health care facility or a rehabilitation center. I think the mall management is pleased to provide it as a facility for people to use, but people should not rely upon it from a medical standpoint; it's a shopping mall."