Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

The Mall Police

Posted on Dec 30, 2009 in Family and Friends, Rants |

The Mall Police

My mom was in a wheelchair when I was a kid. She’s all good now, but a few childhood things remain. One, having a mom in a wheelchair gets you to the front of every line at Disneyland. Two, wheelchair races are not for sissies;  and three, the closer you get to the holidays, the harder it is to navigate stores. As you know, wheelchair-bound or not, shopping displays. life-size Santas and hoards of merchandise racks are a bitch to work around.

My Mall Police badge of honor started in 2003 when my twins were born. I’d gone to the mall and realized in horror that I couldn’t get through aisles in stores I normally could navigate with my double-wide Twin Savvy Stroller (or any of the other six strollers I had at the time). I walked into a store in San Jose and literally could not get to the items I wanted to see. As I pulled my stroller backwards to wiggle my way in, I noticed a wheelchair-bound woman trying to shop in the aisle. Eventually she gave up and left the store. In a rage, so did I.

That night I looked up the size of double-wide strollers online. It just happens to be the same width size as the American with Disabilities Act standards. So, in essence, my stroller was exactly the same size as a wheelchair. The wheels were turning. In theory, I thought, I could stalk every store in the mall and report the ones that were not compliant with wheelchair regulations. The more I thought about it, the more ticked-off I got: if it were my mother in a wheelchair and she couldn’t go Christmas shopping because she literally could not get down the aisle… the image outraged me. I decided that I would become the self-proclaimed Mall Police.

The next morning I headed out to Wesfield’s Valley Fair Mall in San Jose. I was armed with a notepad, a digital camera and my stroller (yes, the kids were in the stroller). I went up and down, traipsing myself through the mall, only stopping at Nordstrom (mild violations only) to breastfeed the kidlets. At every store where I could not get my stroller down the aisle, I would ask for a manager. I would tell them that my stroller was the exact width of a wheelchair and that they were in violation of the law (and of potentially buyers). Then I marched myself down to customer service where I reported each store. To Westfield’s credit, the mall management called me the following day. He had spoken to each store and warned them he’d call the County if they did not comply immediately. Got to give the guy credit for listening to a mom-on-the-warpath.

The following year, I noticed the same thing. And again, the Mall Police put on her badge and hit the mall with an agenda. This time I noticed retailers were more sensitive to the problem and more engaged in finding solutions. Leaving one store, I overheard the store manager tell a worker, “Move the rack, she’s right.” I smiled. Eat my stroller dust.

I am right. There are 2.1 million wheelchair users in the US and my mama was one of them. And every single one of them deserves 36 inches to get their chair around a store. In fact, there’s more. Many of our cute stores in San Jose are massive issues for people in a chair. Campbell, cute as can be, has multiple stores that are losing revenue every day from people who can’t get through the front door, muchless shop inside the stores.

Six years later, I’m still the Mall Police during the holidays. My children, long out of strollers, help me each year, pointing out the clearance violations. Indeed, it’s such a random, strange way to give to my community, but for me, it’s a passion. It’s a need. The holiday season is here and I plan to hit the stores tomorrow. Look out.