Turtle Creek Mall introduces new Youth Escort Policy

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Turtle Creek Mall is rolling out a new policy regarding young shoppers. Mall officials hope the change will create a more family-friendly shopping experience for everyone.

Starting Friday, May 25, all mall visitors under the age of 18 will have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian over the age of 21 on Friday and Saturday nights after 5 p.m. Mall officials said the policy can be implemented at any other time at the discretion of management.

According to a news release from Turtle Creek Mall, the new Youth Escort Policy is being put in place to cut down on the rising number of unsupervised youths hanging out at the mall on Friday and Saturday nights.

"Turtle Creek Mall strives to remain a center of commerce in the community that brings quality stores and shoppers together," said Stacy Woodard, General Manager of Turtle Creek Mall. "Unfortunately, a growing number of unsupervised youth are attempting to use the mall in a manner that is inconsistent with this purpose."

Mall officials said the presence of large crowds of unsupervised youths has created an "uncomfortable atmosphere for mall visitors and an increasing security challenge"

Footaction Manager Mike Keene described what the past year had been like for Turtle Creek Mall in Hattiesburg.

"[People] leaving the mall and not wanting to come cause it was so disruptive," Keene said.

That's just one of the concerns Turtle Creek Mall said retailers, shoppers and the community voiced to them. They said the rowdy behavior of kids is becoming a problem and costing the mall customers.

"We lost a lot of our good customers," Keene said.

He said in the past year, a few unruly kids in large groups have been the problem, but he added the new policy should put an end to that.

"Now with a parent or guardian coming with the kids, it shouldn't be a problem," Keene said.

Keene said he doesn't want parents to get the wrong idea, they welcome all customers of any age.

"We want kids in here, 100 percent. We want every last one of them. We just want them to act like they are suppose to," Keene said.

Woodard echoed the sentiment, saying kids are welcome, but they ask that kids be supervised during the specified period each week.

"Through feedback from our community, including shoppers and retailers that have voiced concern about inappropriate behavior, we have designed a policy that will allow Turtle Creek Mall to address unsupervised youth issues and provide all our shoppers with a pleasant experience," said Woodard. "Teens and pre-teens are welcome to shop at the mall. We are only asking that our youth customers shop with a parent or guardian who is 21 years of age or older during a limited number of the total 72 shopping hours the mall is open each week."

Turtle Creek Mall Marketing Director Alicia Easley released this statement addressing what the policy entails if a child is found unattended:

"Once the Youth Escort Policy takes effect on May 25, any youth who is found to be in violation of the policy will be asked to leave the property. If they do not have a ride, they can call a parent or guardian, and we will allow them to remain in a designated area until the parent or guardian arrives. Once they arrive, the youth is welcome to continue shopping with that adult."