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The punking of Park Plaza: Little Rock youths choose upscale mall for playground; are they scaring off customers?

It's an average night at the mall.

Early Christmas shoppers wind their way through groups of pre-teens and teen-agers.

The kids hang out at the escalator and shout at members of the opposite sex.

Guys strut toward the arcade and look at the girls, who giggle flirtatiously.

But one group of boys grows increasingly louder. The boys begin to mouth profanities.

A security officer tells them to keep it down. One of the boys responds by attacking the man. Another pulls out a 9mm semiautomatic pistol.

A scene from the latest cheap teen thriller at the movies?


It's Park Plaza in Little Rock.

"One of them turned around out of the blue and struck him in the face a couple of times, and another one jumped on his back," Rick Kelso, a deputy with the Pulaski County sheriff's office, says of the incident that occurred last month.

Kelso is one of eight police officers who moonlight at Park Plaza.

When the mall was expanded and redesigned in 1988, it brought mass upscale shopping to the state's largest city.

Neighboring University Mall also was redesigned in an attempt to better compete with Park Plaza.

The malls now attract hundreds of youths who claim they don't have anywhere else to go. Kelso says between 300 and 700 kids roam the malls on weekends.

And Park Plaza appears to be their favorite.

"There are no places in Little Rock to party," says Richard Earl Piggee, 17.

Piggee -- whose nickname "EGO E" stands for "Every Girl On Earl" -- says there is a downside to the large numbers of kids at the mall.

"Fights break out," he says. "It's congested. People are frustrated."

Although incidents in which officers are attacked are rare, security officers says knives and other weapons routinely are removed from youths.

Park Plaza store owners and managers believe increased security has improved the situation.

"It was bad a couple of months ago," says Jan Causey, who manages The Bombay Company. "I think security finally has gotten a hold on it. When something happens, they're well aware of it. They're in full force."

But, at the very least, there remains a perception problem among shoppers.

"They're afraid to be out there after a certain time," Kelso says of some older customers.

Like it or not, the kids are now the regulars.

The Social Scene

To adults, they are a bunch of children hanging out.

But the kids look at it differently.

Get hip to this:

"If we don't fit in, we just die," says Mikka Mooney, 11, of those who come to the mall on Friday nights.

They're mostly white.

They've been dubbed "preppies" and "socs," meaning they're the social climbers of their generation.

Friday also brings out the "head-bangers" with their punked-out hair, ripped clothing and occasional dog chains around their necks.

Mooney, sporting black nail polish and a T-shirt, says she's not part of any group.

"Those are the kind of people who really work hard on their images," Mooney says of the "socs" and "headbangers."

Saturday brings out yet another group.

"I wouldn't come down here on a Saturday by myself," says David Hardin, 17.

Hardin has heard rumors of what goes on at the mall on Saturdays. He's not anxious to see if they're true.

Black males turn out in force on Saturday nights. While most say they're just there "to pick up girls," some claim to be members of gangs.

"They see all this stuff on TV, and they want to be like what they see," says Brian Pfeifer, 18, who works at the arcade store Tilt on the mall's ground floor.

"You've got a lot of young brothers confused, and they just want to identify," Piggee says. "We're not gangsters."

But some youths brag about gang affiliations.

Todd Girley, 21, is from Compton, Calif. Girley claims he brought a group called The Hynchmyn to Little Rock.

Girley keeps a piece of tape bandaged around the middle and ring fingers of his right hand in case he gets in a fight.

Park Plaza appears relatively clean as far as drugs go. Only a small amount of illegal substances are confiscated. The confiscations usually occur in the parking lot.

"They're there to hang out," Kelso says of the kids.

He believes most problems, if handled correctly, aren't problems for long.

The Adults

"Break it up, walk around," Kelso says to a group of about seven males congregating close to an escalator.

His partner says to the group, "You're having a party and you didn't invite me?"

The youths good-naturedly move on.

"That's all we do, keep 'em moving," Kelso says.

Earlier that Saturday night, however, he took a knife from a 13-year-old boy.

Some kids look at conversing with the officers as a type of game.

But a mall is no game. It's big business.

Do Park Plaza managers like the idea of being baby sitters for parents who drop off their kids while the parents go to dinner?

Roger Clark, who owns Chick-Fil-A on the ground floor, says, "From a management perspective, we like to cater to them as much as we do to anyone else."

But sometimes the kids aren't buying.

"We can't really separate the shoppers from the people who are hanging out," says Richard Carr, an employee of The Original Cookie Co. "From time to time, it does hurt us."

"Maybe they're just looking for a safe place to go," says Julia Shelby, an assistant manager at Oak Tree Men's Wear. "There have always been kids hanging out in the mall. It doesn't affect us much."

Across the river in North Little Rock, Chris Tilley, the manager at McCain Mall, says there have been few problems other than "kids bunching up and just being kids. Our kid problem is one that you would expect to see anywhere."

Randy Powell, Park Plaza's general manager, says serious incidents at the mall are isolated. Mostly, he says, it's a numbers problem.

Powell doesn't agree with those who say there is nothing for those under 21 to do in Little Rock.

But he adds, "If that's the case, we're interested in looking for a solution."

Powell says he is in contact with a company called Town Center 2000 in Phoenix, Ariz., that assists malls and organizations with youth problems.

"It's an interesting program," Powell says.

Kelso thinks the number of kids at Park Plaza is beginning to decrease.

"Either they have something else to do or the larger security force we have now is making them uncomfortable," he says.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Nov 18, 1991
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