Northlake Mall and Charlotte Mecklenburg Police said Friday they are partnering to increase security at the shopping center following three shootings there within three months.
Northlake Mall officials called Tuesday’s shooting in the parking lot outside Macy’s a “reckless act,” and said other crimes committed in recent months “have shaken our community.”
In addition to increased police presence and 24-hour on-premises security, the northeast Charlotte mall will begin rolling out other safety measures in partnership with CMPD, the statements said. Plans are being finalized for several new security measures that will be implemented soon, according to the mall. The mall declined to detail the changes.
Stores and shoppers told The Charlotte Observer that something needs to be done, and quickly, in the wake of the shootings. On Wednesday, the day after the latest gunfire incident, Apple store abruptly permanently closed its location at the mall in the middle of its day.
The incidents left plenty of people rattled.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do, but they need to do it and they need to do it fast,” said Hector Jesus, manager at Soho Denim Couture in the mall. “To at least make us feel a little safer not just the clients but also the people that work here. It kind of makes you not want to come to work.”
Gunfire at the mall
Tuesday’s parking lot incident happened after an argument between two people escalated into gunfire, police said. Four cars were hit, but no injuries were reported.
Also in the past 75 days:
▪ On Feb. 5, a dispute between two people escalated to shots fired inside the mall in front of the DTLR shoe store. There were no reports of injuries, and the mall closed early for the day.
▪ On Dec. 15, a teen fired a gun during an argument with another man inside a store, near the former old Dick’s Sporting Goods, hitting him and a bystander. The victims had non-life-threatening injuries, authorities said. The mall closed early. Three people, ranging in age from 17 to 21, were arrested.
In his statement Friday, CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings said the mall has been “a vigilant and dedicated partner” for ensuring a safe environment there.
Wary mall shoppers change routines
Quincey Peek and his daughter Qailah Lane were leaving Northlake Mall Thursday after picking up lunch at the food court. Lane, 20, used to spend more time there meeting with friends. Now, they go for a reason then leave.
“It used to be a mall to hang out at, but now it’s not safe enough to do that anymore,” Peek said. He’s lived near the mall since it opened 18 years ago.
The shootings bother him for what it means for the community, but won’t deter him from going to the mall.
“I just hope that they stop because all the other business owners, I don’t want them to pull out of the store, like Foot Locker and Jimmy Jazz,” he said referring to Apple’s exit. “If they keep making the vendors feel unsafe, they’re not going to make money because people are not going to come. So hopefully it doesn’t get that bad.”
‘Wow, not again’
Hector Jesus, the Soho Denim Couture manager, was eating lunch at the register counter Thursday afternoon. He was doing the same thing on Dec. 15 when he heard gunfire.
Then he saw a woman carrying her child, leaving the stroller behind, and running past the entrance. With two customers in the store, he locked the front gate and the three went to the back room for safety.
On Feb. 5, he was off but shopping at the mall. He was in Express clothing store when he saw a woman running down the stairs yelling, “They’re shooting, they’re shooting.”
He didn’t hear the shots but then saw police running in the direction the woman was coming from. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, not again,’ ” he said.
The Express employee shut the gate.
“We waited there (in Express) for between five and seven minutes until the security guards came around letting everybody know we got to shut it down,” he said.
Jesus, who’s worked in the mall for a year, said something needs to be done.
He hopes the mall will beef up security, or implement other safety measures like armed guards, add another security team or even metal detectors at entrances. Other local malls, like Carolina Place, last year added gun-sniffing dogs to their security measures.
“For people to still have firearms in here, I think that’s unacceptable,” Jesus said. “You don’t know how they’re going to fix the issue, but it is an issue for sure. You don’t want it to be another Eastland Mall.”
Eastland Mall in east Charlotte closed in 2010 after years of decline.
‘It’s like a ghost town’
Chyna Wallace has been manager at Kitokos, an African apparel and products store, for about a year. Incidents like the shootings inside or outside Northlake hurts store sales when the mall has to shut down, she said.
“It hurts everybody. And, it makes it so nobody wants to come to the mall, and it’s not fair,” she said. “It’s like a ghost town.”
Wallace was at work during two of the last three shootings.
In December, she had two customers in the store when gunfire erupted at DTLR nearby. In February, it was herself and another employee in the shop. She said if she hears any loud noises, “that gate is closing.”
Still, Wallace has no plans to leave the mall. “I like where I work, I’m not going nowhere,” she said. “I would appreciate it if they stop doing that. Y’all can take that (shootings) somewhere else.”
‘There are a lot of kids on this mall’
Kayla Willoughby, a sales associate for Massk Couture, hadn’t heard about the most recent shooting but has seen more security officers walking the mall.
Still, with three shootings in such a short period, “it is making me think a little bit more about my safety,” she said, “but more so for my customers. There are a lot of kids on this mall, too.”
A mother herself, Willoughby said she can seek safety in the backroom but mall shoppers may not know where to go during an incident.
Worried for his customers and his business
Elliot Riley, owner of The Grooming Lounge, said his barbershop opened seven years ago on March 1. The spate of shootings gives the mall a stigma, he said.
Tucked off the main mall hallway, Riley said he feels more insulated but worries about safety in a shop that sees families including children and seniors.
“We have to always be aware and on alert to make sure if anything happens we can make sure our customers and staff are safe,” he said.
Riley likes the mall location for his barbershop. It’s easy to find and convenient. “Take the shootings somewhere else, please,” he pleaded.
Northlake Mall crime stats
Although CMPD responded to more 2,500 incidents at the Northlake Mall complex since 2017, few were for major crimes.
In the past six years, police reported 28 calls concerning robberies and 16 concerning aggravated assaults, data show. Aggravated assaults can including shooting but also other crimes.
While those incidents have decreased in recent years, this year so far they responded to two robberies and four aggravated assaults – which is more than the total for all of last year, when police responded to five such calls.
At the current pace, police will respond to 36 robberies and aggravated assaults by year’s end – four times the recent high of nine, set in 2020.
There also have been other shooting incidents at the mall.
In March 2021, a juvenile was charged with the attempted murder of another youth following a shooting inside the mall, CMPD said at the time.
In August 2021, Northlake updated its Youth Supervision Policy in place since 2009. Starting at 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, two hours earlier, visitors 17 and under must be accompanied at all times by a parent or supervising adult age 21 or older.
The decision came a month after Concord Mills, about 9 miles away, implemented its first teen curfew after several incidents of “disorderly” youths causing disturbances at the mall. Anyone younger than age 18 must be accompanied by a parent or adult, age 21 or older, after 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Other troubles for the mall
Northlake Mall is having other troubles, too.
In May 2021, the two-story, 1.1-million-square-foot mall went into receivership after failing to pay unspecified debts. Spinoso Real Estate Group of Syracuse, N.Y., maintains and operates the mall, and collects rent.
Tenant occupancy is nearly 74%, the latest N.C. Business Court filings show, below the 89% national average, the Observer previously reported.
Apple store was named in court documents among tenants that had renewed its lease. And other leases are in negotiations, including a gym in the former Dick’s Sporting Goods spot.
Recent and planned openings, according to the mall’s website, are: NOA Living home goods and furniture store, Designers Closet apparel and shoe store, Lovisa fashion accessories, Super Icy Brothers Italian ice shop and Hot Tamale Mexican restaurant in the food court.
Shopping with safety in mind
It was sprinkling when Crystal Taylor was leaving the mall near the AMC Theatres entrance Thursday. She was holding an umbrella in one hand and a bag from Bath & Body Works in the other.
Because of safety concerns, she shops early before dark. And, she comes for specific shops, like her favorites Belk and Bath and Body.
“I just think it’s a shame,” Taylor said. “I would hate to see (the mall) close.”