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Local businesses bothered by Old Capitol Mall bus stop crowds

BY CONRAD SWANSON | JANUARY 23, 2012 7:20 AM

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Downtown business owners say crowds of teens are bringing headaches to their stores, rather than money. Loitering, theft, and fighting are among the most common complaints, and many store owners and employees say they're tired of the raucous atmosphere.

"Weekdays after about 5 or 6 p.m. it gets pretty bad," said Thomas Kelly, an employee at GNC in the Old Capitol Mall said. "Some days there will be like 50 or 60 people out there."

Many local junior-high and high-school students go to the Old Capitol bus stop downtown after school to wait for a transfer bus home. The large crowds that gather after school between 3 to 6 p.m. have drawn attention from community members, who are conflicted on how to help decongest the area.

"People are sitting at tables, waiting at the bus stop, especially right here because you can see the bus stop right outside," said Clare Ruscello, an employee at Four Seasons, also located in the mall.

"They're very loud, a little bit obnoxious, and then not only are there security guards, but Iowa City police are also patrolling as well."

Despite the negative reaction to the student crowds, some mall employees said the behavior wasn't abnormal.

"It doesn't really matter to me," Kelly said. "They're just kids. Yeah it's annoying, but I did the same thing when I was their age."

As a result of the crowds, Iowa City police have been spending more time in problem areas inside and outside the mall. Old Capitol mall manager Kevin Digmann said he's glad to finally see the police presence.

"We've always felt that the responsibility for the problem was a city issue," Digmann said. "We've always requested additional help, and finally, we're getting some."

But City Councilor Jim Throgmorton recently told The Daily Iowan the additional presence may be misguided.

"In my view, there's a difference between loud and boisterous behavior and anything that appears to be criminal behavior," he said.

While there are security guards in the mall, some employees have found only police can effectively disperse the crowds. Silver Spider employee Betsy Barry said she hasn't seen the security guards take a big stance on anything before.

"The people out there will be more threatened by a real cop than a security guard," she said.

Ruscello agreed that the increased presence of authority figures has helped the problems.

"It's still really loud, but you know that fewer fights breaking out if there are police all over the place," she said.

Other employees have seen weather draw more crowds indoors.

"It's primarily high-school students who are waiting for their buses," Universitees employees McKenzie Soden said. "Instead of waiting outside, because it's cold, they'll come in here and take up the whole hallway."

This has occasionally led to bad business.

"They scare some customers away," Soden said. "Some customers don't even come in because of it. They get really loud, it makes customers uncomfortable and [the customers] complain to us."

Even stores outside the mall have seen their share of boisterous customers. The Den, 123 E. Washington St., and the In-Zone, 116 E. Washington St., have both tried to curb loiterers by posting signs stating no more than two unaccompanied minors will be allowed in the stores at a time.

"We have the policy because otherwise they'll be all over the place either stealing or loitering," said In-Zone cashier Jahan Hamilton. "It's OK if they want to look at our stuff, but if they want to hang out, there's a nice Ped Mall right over there."


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