A new policy aimed at promoting a more "family friendly" atmosphere at Towson Town Center by banning unaccompanied minors after 5 p.m got off to a mostly seamless start Friday evening.
Many people seemed to have heard about the policy, and groups of teens who normally spend their weekend nights hanging out at the mall headed to the exits as the 5 o'clock hour approached, with only a bit of grousing.
On her way out, one Notre Dame Prep student said: "We're good."
Security was dispatched to let other teens know about the curfew, and officers, some with dogs, were stationed at 19 entrances and around the mall to check identification.
Jessica Iheanacho and Ayanna Dorsey, both 18 and Towson University students, asked for wristbands identifying themselves as adults so they could continue shopping.
"I guess I understand why they did it, but if I was 17, I'd be upset," said Dorsey. "I used to come when I was in middle school, but now that I'm older, the number of kids is the reason I stopped coming. It was just too crowded."
Mall officials began announcements at 4 p.m. that those 17 and younger not accompanied by an adult would have to leave at 5 p.m. The curfew is in effect only on Friday and Saturday evenings, though mall managers said they are considering extending the curfew to other busy times, such as around Christmas.
Under the policy, a parent or adult can accompany up to four minors.
Lisa Bisenius, the mall's senior general manager, was handing out Starbucks gift cards to families as they walked around, a thank-you for giving the mall a chance during the evenings when the new curfew is in effect.
More than an hour into the new curfew, Bisenius said security officers had turned away only a couple of groups of teens. She planned to get an official count by Saturday of those turned away.
She said she believes families were enjoying the experience without large groups of unaccompanied teens. "We're hoping we see a lot more families here in the evenings," she said.
Bisenius noted that unaccompanied teens are only restricted for a total of eight hours over two nights out of 73 hours the mall is open each week — though they happen to be the most popular times for youths.
Officers could be seen asking young people for identification at one entrance near a bus stop. During what would have been a busy time after 6 p.m., only one group of three teens was turned away. They left after hearing about the new policy.
Officers wrapped purple paper wristbands on those who could show they were old enough to enter.
Fan Jones was escorting her 11-year-old son, Darryl Adams, past a small collection of security guards and said she was glad about the curfew.
"I wouldn't allow my son to be at the mall without me at 11," said the Towson mother. "And when he's older, he'll come to the mall with money to purchase something. This is not a recreational adventure."
Darryl said he gets dropped off at movies sometimes but doesn't walk around the mall without an adult.
Meg Darrell of Towson, who hadn't heard about the curfew, was at the mall Friday evening because her teenage daughter needed a dress. She said years ago, she knew someone who had been harmed by a teen at the mall, and her children knew she would typically take them there only on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
"I may rethink my policy because of this" curfew, she said, as she escorted her daughter and a friend off to shop.
Towson Town Center is the latest business to impose a curfew on unaccompanied minors. Discussions about the move began after an incident in December in which young people threw rocks at police officers. One teen was charged as a juvenile with second-degree assault on a police officer.
Some other local retail centers have similar policies: Hunt Valley Towne Center and The Avenue at White Marsh require teens to be accompanied by adults after 9 p.m., and Marley Station mall in Glen Burnie prohibits teens younger than 16 to be in the mall without an adult after 5 p.m.
General Growth Properties, which owns Towson Town Center, does not have a teen policy at its two other local suburban malls — White Marsh Mall and The Mall in Columbia. But the company does have a policy at its Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore — patrons younger than 18 are not allowed between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on school days without an adult.
Officials with the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP have said they have concerns that the new curfew might be discriminatory against teens, and minority teens specifically. But there's been no outcry against it, officials said.
The organization and the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights have met privately with mall managers about the curfew.
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, was at the mall Friday evening and said he was glad to see families there enjoying themselves.