Marley Station's Teen Connection ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


Many shopping centers seem to crave methods to keep teen-agers out. Marley Station in Glen Burnie is trying to bring them in. What gives?

Actually, Marley Station is giving. The Glen Burnie shopping mall is paying 15 high school students and two dozen middle schoolers $10 a piece for attending monthly meetings of new youth consumer advisory boards the mall is establishing. Mall manager Ed Ladd hopes the ten-spot doesn't become the main incentive, and writes it off as the kind of token the mall gives to older shoppers who participate in surveys and focus groups.

The mall management hopes to glean information for its merchants on what teens like about the mall and what products they'll buy, but it also hopes to toss back some wisdom itself. Mr. Ladd says he wants to have shopkeepers, designers from the large department stores and others speak with the kids about how to succeed in business and marketing, how to find a job, possibly even planting the seed for a budding entrepreneur.

Business involvement in education can be potent, if tricky, chemistry. Schools in this region, for example, have gained thousands of dollars' worth of computer equipment in recent years through receipts their parents have collected after grocery shopping at Giant and Safeway stores. Pizza Hut encourages parents to read to their children by awarding pizza coupons. Merry-Go-Round, the Joppa-based clothier, offers discounts for students with good grades. On the other hand, many people have become alarmed when commercial involvement goes too far, say in the form of Whittle Communication's Channel One classroom TV programs.

For its teen connection, Marley Station has earned plaudits from educators. Management sounds sincere about trying to teach youth while learning some things in return. As Mr. Ladd points out, large retail operators know how every synapse fires in the buying psyche of adults; an official of the company that owns the mall once bragged to reporters covering Marley Station's opening how the tiles were sized to subliminally convince shoppers they weren't walking too far. Yet retailers often care little for adolescent consumers. The malls of the '70s and '80s were blamed for killing downtowns in the communities they entered. In a small way, this is a case of a mall giving back.

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