Don't Mess With Mall Walkers

For years many regional malls have been gracious enough to open their doors early to allow in mall walkers--typically seniors looking for some exercise in an enclosed climate. Recently, a mall outside Detroit raised the ire of some walkers by pushing back the opening of the property for mall walkers by one hour, from 7 AM to 8 AM, and restricting access to the center's second level. The mall walkers didn't take kindly to the changes. The New York Times has more:

The mall walkers were incensed by the changes. They circulated a petition signed by more than 200 people, which they sent to the mall owner, the Simon Property Group. A local newspaper, The North County News, ran a cartoon with the caption “The Cane Mutiny,” which depicted sneaker-clad elderly citizens waving canes threateningly at a man holding a sign displaying the new policy. When newspaper reporters and a cable television station went to the mall to cover the story, they were ordered off the premises.

The conflict illustrates a paradox of life in suburbia, where much of the commerce has moved into big shopping centers. Many people think of local malls as they would town squares — or at least as the once-thriving downtowns many malls have replaced. People consider malls public space, where they have the same rights and privileges as they would on a public street.

But malls, in fact, are private property, as various court rulings have spelled out, and their owners have a legal right to restrict not only entry to the premises, but also the First Amendment rights of those inside. Malls are within their legal rights to toss out mall walkers and journalists alike if they choose to.

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