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Mall stores fear the school bell

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Mill Basin school kids may be saved by the bell, but Kings Plaza merchants hear the chimes of hell.

Kings Plaza may have weathered a perfect storm of teenage hooliganism on the day after Christmas last year, but mall merchants say they have to deal with that same element of ill-mannered rapscallions every day after school, as they flood into the Mill Basin shopping center to steal and to disturb patrons.

“These kids are crazy,” said Charles Lhota, who operates a 99-cent store at the mall. “You can’t talk to them, they use filthy language, and they don’t buy anything.”

On Dec. 26, when social media strife incited an army of hundreds of high-school-aged kids to battle each other — and cops — their delinquent behavior wasn’t directed only at each other.

Lhota says that in the chaos, a masked teen ran amok in his second-floor store, frightening shoppers, and knocking merchandise off the shelves.

Remarkably, there were no arrests that day at the now-infamous “mall brawl” — which has led some to question whether the police simply wanted to avoid inflating local crime statistics at the end of the year. The NYPD has said that there were no arrests because no complaints of assault, property damage or theft were ever filed.

More troubling is the fact that incidents of vandalism and theft at Lhota’s 99-cent store are not limited to that bizarre day after Christmas. He says kids often come into his store seeking after-school snacks — gratis.

“They’ve got it all planned out,” said Lhota. “Two kids lookout, while another one grabs the drinks. It happens all the time.”

Merchants have become familiar with the migratory habits of the area’s high school students, who start filling out Kings Plaza after school lets out each day like clockwork. The mall is serviced by five busses, the B2, B3, B41, B42, and the Q35. It’s warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. Plus, there’s girls to pickup and shoppers to pester.

“They come, because it’s cold outside,” said Paul Brownfeld, who provides security for a second-floor toy store. “They like to chase girls and cause a nuisance. Usually they come in groups and shoppers get scared, old ladies and people with children.”

For Brownfeld, the blame does not fall on Mall Security, which he says does a good job of throwing out kids for infractions like yelling curses and literally throwing dirt at each other.

“If they’re caught posing a real problem, they get thrown out,” Brownfeld said. “You can’t tell them not to come in, but when security catches them throwing dirt from the planters, they’re good about throwing them out.”

The real problem is that, while you can kick them out, you can’t keep them out.

“They’re going to come in no matter what,” said Brownfeld.

Despite a short-lived attempt to block teenagers from entering the mall without an adult chaperone in the wake of the Dec. 26 disturbance, the policy was quickly aborted, to some merchants’ chagrin.

“I think it was a good policy,” said Lhota. “We can avoid these things, but security has to improve.”

Kings Plaza says it has a plan in place to prevent future incidents at the mall, according to Karen Maurer, assistant vice president of corporate communications at Macerich, which owns the mall.

“I can tell you that we have worked with the NYPD and have a plan in place that will help prevent future occurrences,” said Maurer. “Kings Plaza continues to be a very enjoyable environment for all to shop.”

Exactly what Kings Plaza’s plan is, however, remains to be seen.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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