Leisure Features

Dorothy About Town: 1.30.19

I always feel like this period after the holidays is a kind of hibernation. The whirlwind of November and December was fun, but now everyone’s tired. Besides, the weather is often cold and wet, with short, if any, blasts of sunshine. It all makes a local ritual more welcome than ever: the early morning mall walk. I don’t know if it’s this way in other cities, but here, neighborhood malls open early and contain an entire subculture many St. Louisans may not even know about.

The scene is especially active at the Galleria, where I have witnessed friendships, and even romances, arise as regulars log a mile for each downstairs lap, three-quarters of a mile on the upper level. Many walkers come with
buddies or meet inside the main entrance, where a coat rack is set up for their convenience.

For me, there is something peculiarly comforting about meeting friends at 6 a.m. and gabbing while I tick off 3 miles even before my morning coffee. In fact, coffee (and the occasional sweets) is the reward for embracing such a salutary routine. And mall walkers have options: St. Louis Bread Co. at 6 a.m., Starbucks at 7 and Nordstrom’s eBar at 8:30. Bread Co. has become such a darling of the more senior walkers that I have seen them celebrate birthdays and play card games there. I’ve even overheard servers call the corner nook ‘Milton’s table.’

A foul-weather mall walker for years, I have run into all kinds of people there: TV personalities, PR colleagues, parents of children my kids went to kindergarten with and a favorite saleslady from Plaza Frontenac (which also gets early a.m. walkers). I’ve reconnected with old neighbors and acquaintances and have found out about weddings, births and deaths. Fellow walkers, and not just the regulars, typically greet you with a friendly hello.

The Galleria is pretty generous to make its property available this way. For one thing, early morning is their ‘maintenance time.’ Cleaning crews are out dusting surfaces, wiping down escalators and washing windows. Sometimes construction crews are building new stores and storefronts. Walkers get in the way. Their very presence adds liability. And since the stores are closed, it’s not as if the Galleria stands to gain anything, right? (Except for brisk coffee sales.) But opening the mall to walkers is great public relations. It gives people a warm and friendly feeling about the place, a sense of belonging and even ownership. That counts for a lot. After all, good neighbors tend to support each other.