Ever since an expansion in 2001 brought a teen-oriented retail wing to Mayfair Mall, a 1.1-million-square-foot superregional center in Wauwatosa, Wis., unruly teens have been plaguing the property. After the closing of two nearby malls and the addition of an 18-screen movie theater in the late 1990s, the center was already serving as the main entertainment destination for the area and the new wing exacerbated the problem, says Stephen Smith, Mayfair's general manager.

In 2002, a teen was arrested near the movie theater on charges of battery. In 2003, a police officer suffered a concussion as she tried to break up a fight outside the same movie house. Retail theft reached alarming heights. Reluctant to institute a curfew, Mayfair owner General Growth Properties spent millions of dollars on increased security presence and digital cameras and tried to enforce a strict conduct policy, only to find that after an initial drop in incidents the problem persisted. In February, however, after another three teens were arrested for causing a disturbance outside the property on a Saturday night, Mayfair announced that it exhausted its options. The center will be instituting a curfew policy, with details to be provided to the public this month.

“I can't disclose how many incidents we have had, but the numbers are high enough that they warrant taking this step,” says Smith. “We created an advisory panel in 2003 with members of the community to review what we could do to avoid going to a parental escort policy. And we told the community back in 2003 that if the changes we made did not create an environment we were seeking we were going back to this.”

When Mayfair activates the policy it will become one of a growing number of properties that have opted to put in place a teen curfew since the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. became the first shopping center in the country to do so in 1995. Today, at least 39 shopping centers, including four open-air properties, exercise teen curfews, according to ICSC. Among them are centers owned by Simon Property Group, General Growth Properties, Taubman Centers, Inc., the Pyramid Companies and CBL & Associates Properties, Inc.

Taken within the context the of the industry as a whole their number amounts to little more than 3 percent of the nation's 1,104 regional malls, but it represents a significant change from the mid 1990s, when only a handful of owners were using curfews. Since 2003, 21 centers joined the list, according to data from ICSC.

The change can be attributed in part to the proliferation of on-site movie theaters at shopping centers, says Arlene Putnam, general manager of Eastfield Mall in Springfield, Mass., which houses a 16-screen movie theater and instituted a youth escort policy in September of 2005. “When you have a cinema and a game room on the property it really turns into a teen hangout and that turns off other customers,” Putnam says.

Of the 39 centers that currently have curfews, at least 26 house a movie theater. To ensure the curfews don't interfere with the theaters' operations, most policies specify that teens can enter individual venues from the street, but can't walk around common areas.

In addition, managers at centers with curfews say that they have witnessed a marked improvement in sales per square foot and a drop in security incidents since barring unsupervised teens. Putnam estimates that Eastfield sales rose 10 percent from 2004 to $320 per square foot in 2006. The total number of security incidents went from 155 to 113, a decrease of 27 percent.

Teen menace

Even malls without curfews remain concerned about controlling teen behavior. A December 2006 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, “An Assessment of the Preparedness of Large Retail Malls to Prevent and Respond to Terrorist Attack,” found that loitering teens were the top problem named in a survey of mall security directors. Overall, 30 percent said teens were the biggest issue they face in their daily work, ranking teenagers as a greater security threat than terrorist attacks, shoplifting, burglary and vandalism. In addition, teenagers account for much of the shoplifting and vandalism, as well as the occasional fight between gang members, says Chris McGoey, founder of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting and publisher of the crimedoctor.com website.

“Large crowds of teens cause some customers to stay away and their altercations can escalate from verbal abuse all the way to murder,” says McGoey, who notes that mall security is always on the lookout for young men who don't appear to be shopping.

Before instituting a seven day a week curfew policy in June 2004, the management of Taubman-owned 1.5-million-square-foot Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Mich. used to get complaints from both tenants and customers about the noise and shoplifting its large teenage base caused. When congregating at the mall, the kids often curse and push each other, start fights over boyfriends and girlfriends and smoke in the entryways. “We had several thousand unsupervised young people who would spend every Friday and Saturday evening here-it was like having two high schools merging without adult supervision,” says Catherine O'Malley, Fairlane's general manager.

After the curfew went into effect, revenue losses from shoplifting went down 4 percent and sales at teen-oriented retail stores went up from 3 to 5 percent, O'Malley says. Putnam, who noticed a similar phenomenon at Eastfield, speculates that when teens come to the center with parents, they have access to more money and tend to spend more.

Some shopping center operators haven't waited for problems to pop up before opting for curfews. Vestar Development's 1.2-million-square-foot Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, Ariz., for example, has a wide selection of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, as well as an 18-screen AMC movie theater. As a result, the management requires anyone 16 and under to be chaperoned by an adult when visiting the center after 6:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We didn't want the combination of liquor and young children running around,” says Emily Bond, marketing director with Vestar. “And our retailers are absolutely on board; it's been very successful for them.”

When Vestar completes Tempe Marketplace, its 1.3-million-square-foot lifestyle and entertainment center in Tempe, Ariz. (opening is scheduled for July of 2007), The curfew will be instituted there as well.

Fact and fiction

Some owners are still wary of trying curfews, however, afraid they will negatively impact the mall's bottom line. Charles Waldron, senior vice president of property management with Macerich Co., which operates 73 regional shopping centers, says that Macerich will not institute a curfew policy because it views today's teenagers as tomorrow's core customer base.

“Research finds that teens are fiercely loyal and we want to ensure that loyalty for our centers and our retailers,” says Waldron, who adds that today's teens are members of Generation Y, which numbers 72.7 million people and which is expected to have as profound an impact on the retail industry as the Baby Boomers had for the past 40 years.

But at the moment, children ages 12 through 19 comprise only 33.8 million people compared to 78.2 million Baby Boomers and 41 million Generation Xers. Their loyalty is questionable, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Ill.-based market researcher. “It's not that they don't have loyalty, but just because you are an established brand doesn't mean that you'll be able to coast on that,” says Rob Callender, trends director with the firm.

And while they spend more time at the mall than any other age group at 97.1 minutes per visit vs. the overall average of 81.5 minutes per visit, according to 2005 data from ICSC, they spend the least money. Customers between the ages of 14 and 17 spend only $56.50 per trip to the mall while the average figure is $90.90 (those ages 35 to 54 spend the most, with $108.50 per visit).

In some instances, after curfews have been announced, teens and their families have threatened to boycott properties. Several posters on the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) website have called for an on-site protest or a full-out boycott of the Fairlane Town Center when they learned of its curfew policy, for example.

“We find such practices repugnant on principle,” says Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director with NYRA. “They have to target those individuals who are stealing and causing problems.”

In the long run, however, teens might not be as put off by curfews as owners fear. “The meeting places where teens can go where they don't have to spend money if they don't want to are fairly limited and that's why they like the mall,” says Callender. “As long as curfews don't get terribly draconian, they will still go.”

Finding balance

Property owners and managers are aware that they shouldn't alienate teens. Most curfews go into effect only on Friday and Saturday nights, starting as early as 3 p.m. and as late as 11 p.m. But a few centers, where the management feels that they are being used as a free-of-charge babysitter, do have more stringent requirements — the Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, Miss., for example, discourages parents from leaving children 13 and under unattended at any time and prohibits groups of four or more people. At Eastfield Mall, anyone 15 and under must be accompanied by a parent or a guardian on a daily basis. And at Madison Marquette's Bayfair Center in San Leandro, Calif., school-age children can't visit the mall without a parent on any school day before 3 p.m.

Taubman's Fairlane Town Center falls in the second category — its policy goes into effect at 5 p.m. daily, but O'Malley says that was based more on community preference than the center's. “We asked for input from community leaders and they felt that it was better to encourage families to find opportunities to engage with their children.”

Managers are also sensitive in how they handle violators. At Fairlane, security officers are taught to treat the teens with respect and allow them to stay on the property until someone comes to pick them up (they are placed in a secure area and are monitored by both a live person and a camera). The same is true at North Hills and Desert Ridge Marketplace — “Our security team has gone through a lot of training to be able to handle these issues,” Bond says.

That's because enforcing private company rules at a public access property carries a high risk of legal proceedings, McGoey says. Some municipalities, including Tempe, Tupelo and Dearborn, as well as San Francisco, Reno and New Orleans, have their own youth curfew laws and make it easier for local malls to enforce theirs. But in the absence of such laws, teens can claim age discrimination.

“Curfews might be effective, but they might not be legal,” says McGoey. “Plus, they put pressure on the security officers — you are expecting them to use discretion and good judgment, while paying them some of the lowest salaries on the property.”

That might be one reason Macerich prefers to invest in teen-oriented activity programs rather than deal with a controversial curfew policy. The company holds Teen Advisory Boards at several of its malls, including the 1.4-million-square-foot Flatiron Crossing in Broomfield, Colo. and the 1-million-square-foot Shoppingtown Center in Dewitt, N.Y., where teenage volunteers organize discussions of topics relevant to their peers.

For those willing to take the risk, however, teen curfews may be just what they need to attract older, more affluent shoppers. The management at the 740,000-square-foot Columbia Mall in Columbia, Mo., for example, tried everything from meetings with public school officials to family programming nights to increased security presence to control its teenage visitors, only to continue getting letters from customers who were so put off by the noise and the crowds they threatened to never come back. After the mall instituted a 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday curfew on Feb. 2, the number of conduct policy violations at the center dropped from around 60 a week to under five, says Katie Essing, the mall's general manager.

“It felt like a last resort for us, but it turned out to be a huge success,” she says. “On the first weekend, we were pleased to see teens come in with their parents — they were still there, but they had an adult with them.”