By Llee Sivitz
Drop by any shopping mall two hours before its stores open and you'll see sneaker-clad patrons heading for the entrance.
Early birds flocking to a super sale? No. They're mall walkers.
Controlled temperatures, wide walkways and safe environments make malls an easy solution to the dilemma of exercising in winter's elements.
Mall walking gained popularity in the early 1980s. Today's mall walkers take their exercise facility seriously. In fact, Middletown residents recently threatened to boycott their mall for reducing its mall-walking hours.
At least two Tristate malls - Eastgate and Florence - have organized mall-walking groups.
"There were walkers here but no formal group," says Christine Julian-DeBaltzo, marketing director of Eastgate Mall in Clermont County who spear-headed the group in 1999. "We rolled it out, wanting to reach the senior mall walker but also emphasizing a `moms and strollers' program for younger people."
About 100 are on Eastgate's monthly mall-walking newsletter list. Thirty to 40 show up for monthly meetings, which often focus on health topics.
"We have an incentive program. As you reach different mile markers you get mall gift certificates," Ms. Julian-DeBaltzo says.
Byron Zude, 78, of Clermont County, who started mall walking in 1983 and was instrumental in the group's beginnings, is called the "20,000-mile man" for his mall-walking totals begun at another mall.
"My cardiologist said I needed to walk and exercise," Mr. Zude says. He walks up to 5 miles a day, five days a week.
Eileen Cox, 74, also of Clermont County, had back pain and was looking for relief.
"I went to a chiropractor and a back surgeon and they couldn't really help me, so I said `I'll try something else,' " Ms. Cox says. "This helps me greatly." She and her husband, Raymond, 75, walk six days a week, 3 miles each day.
Malls vary in their "perimeter distance," or the mileage covered by keeping the same shoulder to the wall as you walk the mall. Some malls have two levels, offering the option of stair climbing.
Shawn Keegan, 38, of Milford, speeds around Eastgate Mall with her 1-year-old daugter, Zoe, asleep in a jogging stroller.
"I walk here nearly every day, depending on the weather. It's a nice surface (compared) to the bike trail, and the piped-in music keeps your rhythm going," Ms. Keegan says.
Susan Burns, 39, of Southgate, has been walking at Eastgate Mall for three weeks.
"I have a membership to a gym, but I don't like the atmosphere much. So I came out here and I like it. I come every day," Ms. Burns says.
"Walking the pace that I do now, I walk out of here sweating. ... To me the treadmill is boring. Here, there's scenery, the people are friendly and ... it's free."
Beechmont Mall, 7500 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Township; 232-3438. Two times around the perimeter equal one mile. Opens 8:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday for walkers.
Crestview Hills Mall, 2929 Dixie Highway, Crestview Hills; (859) 341-5151. Four laps around perimeter equal one mile. Opens 8 a.m. daily for walkers.
Eastgate Mall, 4601 Eastgate Blvd.; 752-2290. One time around perimeter is 3/4 mile. Opens 8 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday for walkers.
Florence Mall, Mall Road; (859) 371-1231. Two levels, each 1/2 mile in perimeter. Open 7 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday for walkers. Register for mall walking club at the Customer Service desk or call St. Luke Hospital East, Cardiac Rehab (the club's partner) at (859) 572-3382.
Forest Fair Mall, Fairfield. Mall under renovation.
Kenwood Towne Centre, 7875 Montgomery Road, Kenwood; 745-9100. One time around upper and lower levels is about one mile. Opens 6 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday for walkers.
Northgate Mall, 9501 Colerain Ave., Colerain Township; 385-5600. One lap is about 8/10 mile. Opens 8 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday for walkers.
Tri-County Mall, 11700 Princeton Pike, Springdale; 671-0120. One time around the perimeter of the upper and lower levels is about one mile. Opens 8 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday for walkers.
TEMPO COVER STORIES
Buying a diamond? Leave no stone unturned
KIESEWETTER: Football on HDTV looks really super
'Lord of the Rings' gets double nod at People's Choice Awards
Ask A Stupid Question
Get to It: A guide to help make your day
'Angel,' 'Buffy,' 'Dawson' may end
'Just Married' debuts on top
Homeland, immigrants differ on 'Greek Wedding's realism
Walkers find malls comfortable, safe
Start day with high-quality carbs
Fit Bits: Ways to stay active and healthy
Eddins uncommon in leading CSO
SUNDAY TEMPO HEADLINES
Winter Arts Guide
CCM showcase, fund-raiser 'Moveable Feast' returning
DAUGHERTY: 45 brings calls for wisdom
MARTIN: Are you a food snob or slob?
MORE SUNDAY TEMPO HEADLINES