Teenagers who hang out at Towson Town Center on the weekends may need to find a new spot after the regional mall announced it will ban teens on Friday and Saturday nights unless they are accompanied by an adult.
Mall officials said Thursday that starting Sept. 16, those younger than 18 will not be allowed in the mall after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays without a parent or "supervising adult" age 21 or older.
The policy follows complaints from residents and elected officials about young people congregating at the mall, especially after it closes at 9 p.m.
Last December, a group of rowdy young people clashed with police, with some throwing rocks at officers. A 16-year-old girl was charged as a juvenile with second-degree assault on a police officer. Politicians called on the mall to institute a curfew for teens.
Lisa Bisenius, senior general manager for Towson Town Center, acknowledged that there have been "occasional" incidents with young people that mar the mall's attempt to promote a family-friendly image.
"We're helping keep a more controlled environment," Bisenius said. "We're taking a look at branding Towson as a much more family-friendly environment, and this is a piece of the puzzle."
Dozens of malls around the country have implemented similar policies, including Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, The Avenue at White Marsh and the Mall of America in Minnesota, as malls endeavor to walk a fine line between encouraging all-important teen spending and maintaining a pleasant environment for other shoppers.
"I think they're going to lose a lot of money," said Angela Shettle, 18, who arrived at the mall Thursday afternoon with her 17-year-old boyfriend, who was getting a haircut.
The new rules mean "no more getting a bite to eat on Friday nights," said Shettle, who doesn't think the policy will last.
Others welcomed the rules.
Susan Russell said she was frightened at the mall around Christmastime when teens were gathered, sitting on railings in the food court and chanting.
"I picked up my kids and left; I had two small children," she said. "They don't belong there. There's too many shenanigans."
Russell said she's been shopping at Towson Town Center since it opened.
"The last two years, it's extremely worse," said Russell, who now avoids the mall and shops across the street. "I'm very disappointed in it."
Kristin Nieberlein, who works in an office across Dulaney Valley Road from the mall, said she's felt uneasy in the evenings, but never threatened.
"Friday nights are very rowdy, and large groups of kids," she said. "I just remember being like, 'Oh my gosh.'"
Peter McKibben, assistant manager of Record & Tape Traders across from the mall, said the mall's policy is "a really bold move." But he didn't think it would hurt business.
"We see a lot of kids browsing but not necessarily spending money," he said. "As long as mom and dad are with them, that's who's spending the money."
Bisenius said she and corporate officials with Chicago-based General Growth Properties, which owns the mall, decided to enact the "parental guidance required" policy after getting input from elected officials and business leaders.
"It's impacting the community of Towson. We wanted to make sure everyone is aligned," she said.
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks was among those who called for a youth curfew at the mall following December's rock-throwing incident.
He said he thinks the policy will give shoppers and mall employees "peace of mind."
"Teenagers are still welcome at the mall — they just have to be escorted by their parents," said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican. "The idea is to promote better safety for everyone."
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz called the new policy a good idea. The father of two sons, including one who just turned 15, he said he thinks teens mainly want to hang out at the mall on Saturday afternoons.
Similar rules have "worked well in a lot of places in Baltimore County. No reason why it shouldn't be consistent at Towson Town Center," said Kamenetz, a Democrat.
More and more places are implementing similar policies.
The Cinemark movie theater at nearby Towson Square bans anyone younger than 17 without an accompanying parent after 9 p.m. — and parents must watch the same movie as their child after 9 p.m.
The Avenue at White Marsh, an open-air retail center, has "youth escort policy" that says anyone younger than 17 must be accompanied by an adult after 9 p.m. every day, and Hunt Valley Towne Center, another open-air center, instituted a ban on unaccompanied teens after 9 p.m. in 2005.
In Anne Arundel County, Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie prohibits teens younger than 16 to be in the mall without an adult any time after 5 p.m.
General Growth Properties' Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore does not allow anyone younger than 18 to be in the mall without an adult between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on school days.
But the company's other suburban Baltimore malls — White Marsh Mall and The Mall in Columbia — do not have policies about unaccompanied teenagers. Decisions on youth policies are made on a mall-by-mall basis, said Bisenius, who previously managed at White Marsh.
The massive Mall of America is believed to be one of the first malls to institute a policy on unaccompanied teens back in 1996. Its current policy requires youths under the age of 16 to be accompanied by an adult age 21 or older after 4 p.m. One adult is allowed to supervise up to 10 young people.
The Mall of America came under fire last year after a 14-year-old girl who was violating the curfew policy was restrained by security guards — an incident that was caught on tape and publicized by the NAACP, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Towson Town Center already had a code of conduct prohibiting anything that disrupts the safety of the mall or its "pleasant, family-oriented shopping environment." The code prohibits "disruptive profanity," "excessive loitering," blocking walkways and disorderly conduct.
Under the Towson policy, the mall will make announcements over loudspeakers starting at 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to give young people time to leave the mall. Adults will be allowed to supervise up to four teens after 5 p.m.
Security guards and off-duty police will be posted at the mall's 19 entrances to check identification. The mall is hiring more security officers to enforce the rules, Bisenius said.
Young people who are older than 17 will be given the option of wearing a wristband when they are in the mall after 5 p.m. Teenagers who work at stores in the mall will also be given wristbands.
The mall's two department stores — Macy's and Nordstrom — have the option of following the policy. Macy's has agreed to the policy, but the mall is waiting for a decision from Nordstrom, Bisenius said.
Many Americans fondly recall hanging out at malls when they were teenagers. Bisenius said the new policy isn't meant to stop teenagers from enjoying the mall but to promote responsible behavior.
"The entire social environment is different than back in the '80s. ... We want to promote that if you want to come, come with your family," Bisenius said.
"It might not be hanging out with your friends like you're accustomed to. It may be a different structure than you are used to," she said.