Exercise for the '90sBY ALEX TODOROVIC
Mall walkers are easy to spot. They move along the polished floors with a steady determination, gliding along the outside walls to increase their mileage.
The brightly lit window displays form an electric landscape for those endless laps, a backdrop that has long-ceased to distract the typical mall walker.
Mall walking has evolved into something of a phenomenon over the past decade, now even boasting its own association, the National Organization of Mall Walkers.
NOMW claims that nearly three million walkers across the country are racking up mall miles.
While it may be difficult to conceive of anything more insipid than walking in a mall for exercise, there are compelling arguments for choosing to walk indoors. For starters, the climate-controlled environment offers a year-round track, free from curbs and cars.
Seventy-one-year-old William Harrison has logged 4,132 miles in Richland Fashion Mall in Columbia. One lap around the second level is two-thirds of a mile. Six laps equals four miles. This means Harrison has circled the mall more than 6,000 times.
Harrison explained that he never thought about jogging or running when he was younger. "In my era we never jogged. We had too much to do. When you get older, the doctor says, Be active.'"
Harrison walks three miles six days a week with his walking buddy Warren Daniel, who recently received his 3,000-mile pin.
The pins are nice, but beside the point, Harrison insists. "You walk to help yourself, not to say, I walked 4,000 miles.'"
Harrison and Daniel are two of some 1,300 members of Steppin-in-Style, the Richland Fashion Mall walking club. Other Columbia malls also have walking clubs, cosponsored by Providence Hospital and the Richland County Department of Recreation.
On a typical day, more than 100 people walk Richland Fashion Mall. Thirty-seven year old Fredi Harrell is an afternoon regular.
His distinctive walk surely makes him the butt of many jokes, but Harrell doesn't mind. He remains oblivious behind his headphones, walking 10 laps a day.
Harrell, an office manager at the Literacy Council, began mall walking in January, after making a few New Year's resolutions. He started walking outside, but yells and catcalls drove him off the streets.
Urban planners have pointed out that as the perceived threat of danger increases, the notion and function of public space is radically altered.
The mall has replaced the neighborhood as a genuine community.