Long before the metal gates of the shops clank open or the animals stir at the pet store, as many as 60 senior citizens are walking laps around Cranberry Mall.
Many of them have walked the mall for years -- five years, 10 years, even more.
It is the place where weather conditions don't matter, where the walking surface is predictable and level.
Sometimes they are there on doctor's orders; other times they come for the company -- and also to enjoy the coffee they've "earned" after walking 45 minutes or more.
They'll tell you that if you walk the outer perimeters of the mall without taking short cuts, one lap is about three-quarters of a mile.
Most of them walk three or four laps, except for Anita, "the little blonde -- she goes around 10 or 11 times each morning. She's really in shape," says Mary Sanders of Westminster, who often walks the mall with her husband, Spike.
Mary and Spike Sanders and many of the seniors who whip around the mall each morning are members of the Cranberry Cruisers, a group of senior citizens who walk between 7: 30 a.m. and 10 a.m. and meet once a month to listen to speakers or attend other events organized by Cranberry Mall, which sponsors the group along with Westminster's Recreation Council and Carroll County General Hospital.
Twice a week, as many as 40 Cruisers meet in front of Belk Department Store for aerobics with instructor Eva Minton.
"I do a lot of exercise, and these people are in good shape," said Minton. "I'm so proud of them. They are active people who love being with their grandchildren, being active with their grandchildren. After exercising, they can see a difference in their agility and how they feel. And best of all, they keep coming back for more."
"Not Spike -- he chickened out of the aerobics," said Betty Johnston, who walks with her husband, Dale. The couple lives in Westminster. "I think he has a girlfriend to visit during that time, but don't tell his wife."
His wife, Mary, is walking close enough to hear the comment and she laughs. This banter is typical of the Cranberry Cruisers; they are a hearty bunch pushed on by determination and wit.
Most of them know each other on a first-name basis -- Delores, Don, Bill, Betty, Dale, Charles, Tom, Ruth -- and cheerful "good mornings" are offered as easily as coffee refills at the local diner.
"I look forward to walking at the mall every day," said George Hollman of Westminster, who is fondly called "The Mayor" by his friends in the group.
Hollman glides from one person to the next as he walks and talks through his morning routine. He likes to recruit people to the Cranberry Cruisers.
"I run my mouth all the time, so people may not see me but they know that I'm there," Hollman said.
"It's a nice way to start the morning. We love to kid and cut up. We stop and have coffee and tell clean jokes -- chicken-cross-the-road jokes, you know. And on the first Friday of the month, we go out to breakfast."
Group members said they enjoy listening to advice from guest speakers who talk about things like rheumatoid arthritis, stomach problems, use of vitamins "and other topics that senior citizens might want to listen to."
"I have gotten to know a lot of people and made some close friends -- people that I didn't know before," said Ruth Munshaur of Westminster, who has walked around Cranberry Mall for seven years.
She doesn't walk "the nooks and crannies," each morning, she said. "I'll cut across here and there because it is the amount of time that matters. Forty-five minutes a day is just fine for me."
"If I don't walk, I feel like I'm missing something," said Charles Dutterer, who walks around the mall five times, seven days a week.
"Cranberry Cruisers gives seniors a place to socialize, exercise and feel safe," said Adrienne Brown, the mall's marketing coordinator. "We hope the group continues to grow."
The next gathering of the Cranberry Cruisers will be 8: 30 a.m. to 9: 30 a.m. Oct. 27 in the food court at the mall. There will be a guest speaker (yet to be announced), biscuits, coffee and orange juice. Newcomers are welcome, and there is no cost to join.