Closing time: Doors shut, gates slam and grilles come rattling down, keeping merchandise safe in the shops while the mall sleeps through the night. Security continues to be a high priority for these devices, but more and more, retailers and shopping center owners are viewing doors, gates and grilles as an integral part of storefront design and the overall shopping environment.

Landlords such as Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co. are recognizing the aesthetic impact of doors on individual retail stores and the entire shopping center. "People are starting to get very creative as to how they're addressing doors," says Bea Odom, director of tenant services in the Charlotte, N.C., office of Trammell Crow.

High-end retailers in particular are being creative in their designs. Perry's Jewelers, a tenant in Trammell Crow's upscale SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, has a classic storefront design that features a glass door and wood frame with footed columns on either side.

"I do think people are focusing on the entrance," Odom says. "They're putting a tremendous amount of glass in the store and letting the interior speak in the storefront."

John R. Kraus, vice president of marketing for Rochester, N.Y.-based Wilmorite Inc., says each tenant's storefront is important to the center as a whole. "The approval process for storefronts is more demanding," he says. "What we're looking for and challenging our merchants to do is to come up with storefronts that are exciting."

As a result, retailers are taking innovative steps to make their doorways stand out. Some tenants, Kraus says, are trying new combinations of materials, such as glass and marble, as well as incorporating decorative columns, trim work and door hardware.

"Anything you can do to visually impact part of the shopping experience is a plus for the retailer," he says. Years ago, department stores would use a standard grille at their entrances, but today there is no set standard.

For instance, a new Macy's store at one of Wilmorite's regional malls in New Jersey features sliding glass doors. "What we have seen has been a real plus," Kraus says. "Designers and architects are coming up with designs that are brighter and more exciting than ever before."

Manufacturers come through To help them make a statement with storefronts, today's retailers can choose from a wide variety of products. Doors, gates and grilles can be found in many designs, colors and materials. For example, modifications to the standard sliding glass door concept allow for wider store openings. Curved doors also have been introduced.

"Retailers are realizing that they can do other types of openings rather than just a standard, straight front," says Robert Dagenais, president of National Dagendor Ltd., a Quebec-based manufacturer of doors, gates and grilles. "Now they can do more with curved doors and color finishes." Product companies offer a variety of colored grilles to complement store design, as well as tinted and frosted glass.

Some retailers are bucking the system entirely, striving for a unique look by not disguising gates and grilles when they are rolled up during store hours. This warehouse-style look allows customers to see the whole mechanism or the "guts of the grille," Odom says. Such an approach works, she says, if the store design is done well and that raw look carries over into other store aspects, such as brick and exposed beams in loft style.

One of the most popular design trends is the use of glass, and lots of it. Some retailers use it for the whole storefront.

"We've seen much more use of glass over the past six to seven years," Kraus says. Retailers are electing to use it more in storefronts primarily for design purposes but also to shield the store from outside elements such as mall noise. They are recessing doors and allowing storefront windows to project further out to attract more attention, he adds.

"There is the question of less security," Odom points out, "but the new doors coming out ... have a nice look with a small amount of framing and are still very secure."

Retailers opting for rolling security grilles can choose from such products as mill finished steel, stainless steel and anodized steel. Grilles also come in a variety of styles with different spacing and visibility options. However, the majority of tenants choosing grilles are forgoing elaborate patterns in favor of lower costs.

"The basic finishes and design of the grille, at least in a mall application, is not that critical because it is usually down when no customers are there," says Steven K. Birch, vice president of Cleveland-based KA Inc. Architecture. "Most tenants want something that is sturdy and secure and operates well."

Dimensions are changing In addition to considering a variety of products, retailers are looking at different design techniques when deciding on the actual size of the entrance. Those that depend heavily on impulse purchases, such as The Museum Co., focus on window displays to attract shoppers. Consequently, smaller doors allow more storefront space for displays.

Other retailers are moving in the opposite direction, toward larger openings. Corner stores are maximizing space by opening the store on both sides. "This is the trend of the future -- opening the store wider," Dagenais says.

One of his company's clients installed a frameless glass front and a standard-size double door entry, only to tear it down six months later and install slidin g glass doors. The client found that the smaller entry was having an adverse affect on store traffic, Dagenais explains.

Nana Wall Systems Inc., Mill Valley, Calif., produces an individual-panel Opening Glass Wall system that slides on a top suspension system. The walls can be closed in poor weather, or the glass panels can be removed for an open-air effect. "With our system, we supply a disappearing storefront and entrance," says Ebrahim Nana, president of the company.

The strongest demand for such glass wall systems has been from restaurants and street-level retail stores. "Restaurants want to be able to create indoor/outdoor seating and more inviting entrances," Nana says. Retailers are using the glass walls to create a giant open entrance to the store during business hours, while providing a clear view into the store when it is closed.

Center type makes a difference A tenant's door and grille decision as well as the landlord's own requirements vary depending on the type of center. Whether a regional mall or strip center in an upscale or middle market, products are chosen to meet specific needs.

"Doors in an upscale center set the tone for the quality of the center," says Martha Spatz, a senior vice president at Urban Shopping Centers Inc., a Chicago-based company that owns and manages a variety of retail property types. Urban has seen little variation among upscale-retailer doors in the past 10 years. The emphasis is on function and a classic look. The most popular choice, she says, is swinging glass doors with no frame and decorative handles.

Doors play an especially critical role in high-end, mixed-use centers, like a hotel/retail combination. "Those centers are open beyond store hours, so doors play a very aesthetic role," Spatz says.

The majority of tenants in Urban's mid-range centers use rolling grilles. Spatz adds, however, that grilles spanning the entire storefront are losing favor. Now retailers are shrinking those openings -- some by as much as 50% -- because they are difficult to control from a security perspective.

Even so, grilles continue to be a popular choice in malls simply because they are down when the centers are closed and few people actually see them when they are in use, Spatz says.

Security remains a concern Although design aesthetics are becoming more important to retailers, security is still a pressing issue, especially for freestanding stores and strip center tenants. "Security is a big problem, particularly with some of the older centers," Odom says.

Smashing glass to gain entry is one of the most common methods of store robbery, but sometimes theft occurs through sheer carelessness. Trammell Crow found that at some of its properties, exterior doors with a hold-open feature could be accidentally left propped open by a construction or maintenance crew worker. In response, the company eliminated the hold-open feature on many of its centers' exterior doors.

Realizing that they can lose considerable merchandise in under four minutes, retailers are selecting doors with added security features. For example, Cornell Storefront Systems, Mountain Top, Pa., offers an "ultra secure" steel Screenguard door, with pinpoint holes that provide a view into the store even when the door is down. The door is one of Cornell's top sellers, says company president Chris Slocum.

Dagendor's Supra door combines aluminum and tempered glass to provide both visibility and full protection. The tempered glass panels resist scratching, Dagenais says, and the door prevents reach-through theft.

Security thus assured with today's variety of doors, gates and grilles, retailers can concentrate on enhancing storefronts for the more important time of day -- when the mall wakes up, open for business.

DOORS, GATES & GRILLESNana Wall Systems Inc. The individual panel Opening Glass Wall system from Mill Valley, Calif.-based Nana Wall Systems Inc. consists of unlimited configurations of aluminum-framed glass stacking panels that slide on a top suspension system. Providing versatility and flexibility, the weather-tight system can be partially or fully opened and can easily slide away behind or in front of posts into a recessed parking bay.

Metro Door Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Metro Door manufactures rolling and sliding security grille closures, counter shutters, and rolling steel and perforated doors. The company also offers 24-hour service on all grilles, doors and glass storefronts.

DORMA Glas Inc. Upper Marlboro, Md.-based DORMA Glas Inc. manufactures architectural hardware for fully tempered heavy glass entrances, including patch fittings, door rails and operating hardware. The company's top-hung wall systems --FSW (folding sliding walls) and HSW (horizontal sliding walls) -- provide for security, full vision and the ability to open unobtrusively from wall to wall.

National Dagendor Ltd. Quebec, Canada-based National Dagendor Ltd. is a worldwide manufacturer of custom-made doors, gates, grilles and shutters. The company's product line covers security needs ranging from the shopping mall to window protection.

Dynamic Closures Cornwall, Ontario-based Dynamic Closures offers more than 30 side-folding and rolling security grilles and closures. All side-folding models have adjustable height hardware to help avoid installation problems, and wide-body models feature a small stack. The company's rolling grilles and closures are available in multiple open-air designs, polycarbonate panels, perforated steel and tempered glass.

R*O*M Corp. LinksGuard security chain closures from Belton, Mo.-based R*O*M Corp. offer effective security, traffic control and visibility. The chain closures can be custom-engineered to fit any opening, can be stored conveniently, and are durable, virtually maintenance-free and easy to operate by one person.

Horton Automatics The APEX sliding door sensing system from Corpus Christi, Texas-based Horton Automatics enhances safety, efficiency and performance by combining motion sensors to open the door and presence sensors to prevent the door from closing when occupied. Designed for the company's new electrical sliding door series 2000, 2001 and 2003, the system comes with a hand-held remote control that adjusts both the sensor and operating mechanism of the door.

Cornell Storefront Systems Mountain Top, Pa.-based Cornell Storefront Systems is a resource for rolling, side-folding security doors and grilles as well as sectional doors. Retail applications include storefronts, pharmacies and supermarkets. A 24-hour emergency service is available through the company's "open door policy" nationwide service program.