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Love blooms in the aisles; exercise buffs are swarming to malls to stroll in comfort and perchance to find romance.

Exercise buffs are swarming to malls to stroll in

comfort and perchance to find romance.

The morning air is sweet with the scent of evergreens. The landscape is serene, the temperature unseasonably warm. Ed Grilli, 67, laces up his sneakers and starts a brisk four-mile hike.

"Isn't this a beautiful country?" he rhapsodizes.

Grilli isn't talking amber waves of grain or purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain. He's talking a vast mesa of shoe racks and costumed mannequins. He's talking Radio Shack, Thom McAn, and Docktor Pet Center. He's talking the 126-store Southshore Shopping Plaza Center.

More and more Americans are forsaking the pleasures of strolling the great outdoors for the climate-controlled comfort and piped-in music of the local mall. They are mall walkers -the fitness buffs who find nothing so invigorating as a few laps around the potted plants and the ersatz waterfalls.

The Shoe That Fits Their numbers are growing by leaps and bounds. Avia Athletic Footwear, a division of the footwear maker Reebok International, estimates there may be as many as 500,000 mall walkers in the United States. To capitalize on the new market, the shoe company recently introduced a walking shoe designed "to give extra traction for smoother, slicker mall floors" and "to propel the body's momentum forward."

Some sneer at the trend. "I like the fresh air and trees, the song of a bird or the smell of nowers, a litte wind on your back, and the surprise of suddenly coming upon a lake in the woods," says Brad Ketchum, editor of Walking Magazine, who walks two miles to his office in downtown Boston. "In a mall you're likely to turn a corner and discover an Orange Julius. "

John Robinson, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, shudders to think of exercising in the typically sterile atmosphere of a shopping center. He says it brings to mind the cult movie The Night of the Living Dead, in which an army of zombies roams aimlessly through malls.

But aficionados say the advantages of indoor strolling are obvious. Mall walkers don't have to do battle with bus fumes, bad drivers, or dogs. Roaming guards provide a measure of security. Malls are heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. It never rains.

The mall can also be a great place to look for love. For Mary and Jim Padalino, romance blossomed among the retail shops two years ago. "For a whole year I kept going to McDonald's for breakfast, hoping to find a boyfriend," Mary Padalino, 60, recalls. "All I found was 12 extra pounds around my waist."

Catered by Burger King Then she took up mall walking at McKinley Mall in Hamberg, New York, and met Mr. Padalino, 75, who also had been widowed. The two got married five months later at the shopping center. Three of the mall's fastfood shops, Arby's, Burger King, and Long John Silver's, catered the affair, which was held in an open concourse. Original Cookie furnished the wedding cakea giant chocolate-chip cookie shaped like a heart. Tuxedo Junction outfitted the wedding entourage. Other mall stores provided the invitations, music, and flowers.

More than 750 guests attended the ceremony, most of them mall walkers. The ceremony was conveniently scheduled at 9 a.m. so guests could exercise first. Since the wedding, the Padalinos have launched a new career. Avia, the footwear maker, jets the celebrity mall walkers around the country to promote its new shoe.

Increasingly, malls are catering to walkers. After all, they have found it to be good business. "I found these nice ruby earrings," says Michelle Smith, 26, a beauty consultant who window-shops as she strolls through the Lakeland (Florida) Shopping Mall"It provides a good motivation to exercise."

Mall walkers are usually early birds, getting into stride before the malls become crowded. Some malls allow walkers in through employee entrances as early as 6:30 a.m. Others etch mileage markers in walls. Crossroads Mall in Boulder, Colorado, built exercise stations so walkers can flex and stretch. From time to time, a number of malls offer apres-stroll refreshments: bran muffins and decaffeinated coffee are popular items.

Some malls even ask walkers what type of music they prefer, but man walkers aren't fussy. In fact, they actually seem to like the stuff piped out over the loudspeakers.

Mall walkathons are becoming a big event. Last month, animal rights advocates raised $2,500 walking 23 laps-that's about 12 miles-at Fairfield Mall in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Woodfield Shopping Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois, launches major center events with a mall-walking contest. Contestants are asked to dress in orange, the mall's color. Winners-those who log the most mileage-get gift certificates for use at mall stores.

Joseph Piombino, an accountant from Mount Prospect, Illinois, who does six miles a day at Woodfield, bagged a $50 gift certificate after logging 3,000 miles in a recent contest. "I've walked across America," he says. "And I did it at Woodfield Shopping Mall."

Physicians are encouraging the trend. "For a patient, the mall eliminates just about every excuse not to walk," says Ben Beres, director of physicians at Quincy (Massachusetts) City Hospital. "In a certain sense, the mall could be a lifesaver."

Quincy City Hospital staffs a nursing booth outside a Sears Roebuck store at the Southshore Shopping Plaza where walkers get free blood-pressure checks. And the Lakeland (Florida) Regional Medical Center sends a fitness expert to a local mall to lead walkers in warmup and cooldown exercises.

A School for Walkers Mall walking wouldn't seem to require any special talent or technique, but for those who insist on instruction, at least onecollege offers a semester-long course in the subject. Contra Costa Community College in Richmond, California, conducts classes at a local maU and grades students on attendance and will-power: top performers manage to avoid the pastry shops.

Mall walkers revel in the camaraderie. Exuding the enthusiasm of an aerobics instructor, Ed Grilli barks doses of encouragement as he passes others one recent morning at Southshore. "You're looking younger than yesterday, Ed," a walker in a derby hat hails Grilli as the two pass in front of a Casual Corner. "Move those arms, young man, keep 'em moving," Grilli replies as he steams forward.

The 100-Store Dash Grilli says the mall walking has helped him cut back on the drugs he takes to control cardiovascular disease. Walking outdoors pales in comparison to his new sport, he contends: "In a mall there is electricity, there is energy."

Sam Goldman, 5'7" and 260 pounds, took up mall walking recently to try to lose weight after his doctor warned him his health was in danger. Perspiring heavily, Goldman, 48, sits on a bench sipping coffee after a strenuous one-mile walk. "Every day I try to increase my distance by three stores," he says. "Today I'm at The Kitchen, tomorrow Athlete's Foot."

So, what's next? Perhaps man jogging. Fairfield Mall in Chicopee, Massachusetts, may ask its security guards to don exercise tights and jog their nightly rounds. Denise Schwartz, the mall's marketing director, says, "I think it's about time our loss-prevention crew got in shape."
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Author:Pereira, Joseph
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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