It's 8 a.m. on a chilly Monday in December, but the approach of winter weather hasn't thrown Westbury's Richie Flori off his daily walking regimen.
Flori, 73, a retired union carpenter who used to exercise on the streets of his neighborhood, has found a way to break a sweat without having to brave the elements or traffic.
He and his friends and fellow retirees, Jimmy Woll, 72, also of Westbury, and Frank Reina, 74, of East Meadow, are burning off breakfast calories with a brisk jaunt through their favorite — and free — indoor, year-round walking track.
"In the winter it's warm, in the summer it's cool," Flori says of the climate-controlled environs of the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City.
"The greatest thing about mall walking is you don't have to fight the weather," agrees Mel Kussoy, 81, of South Westbury, who's taking advantage of the mall's early-bird hours to walk three miles on the main level under skylights that allow in natural light. The retired New York City teacher sees daily exercise as a habit, like brushing his teeth. At this preshopping hour of the morning, you don't have to battle mall crowds, he observes.
Kussoy and his mall-walking buddies, Joseph DaSilva, 74, and Tom Winters, 55, both of Mineola, drove to the mall at 7:30 a.m. and easily found a good parking space close to an unlocked mall entrance. They set off on their daily 45-minute walk, joining dozens who take advantage of the quiet window before the stores open for business and the shoppers descend.
DaSilva, a retired private chauffeur, says mall walking helps control his heart problems and diabetes. Winters, who started mall walking in July after being downsized from his job as a client service manager in the finance industry, says his morning jaunt jump-starts his day. Mall walking, he says, especially on a cold day like today, "starts the blood flowing."
Baby, maybe it's cold outside, but you needn't hang up your walking shoes until spring. Every day, hundreds of mall walkers on the Island stay in shape by lacing up and hitting the polished floors of their local, enclosed shopping mecca.
If you resolved for the new year, yet again, to lose weight and stay fit, you'll find a warm welcome at malls, which throw open the doors — some, as early as 6 a.m. -- for the mall-walking legions. At some locations, you may even get a free T-shirt, water bottle and other goodies gratis from commercial enterprises that also want to be seen as supportive of the over-50 crowd.
"We open the doors at Roosevelt Field early for individuals and groups to utilize our environment to achieve their fitness goals year-round," says Nancy Gilbert, the mall's director of marketing.
At Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, the doors open at 6 a.m. for the 150 members of the Sole Steppers walking club. "The mall walkers program is great for the community because it brings people together," says mall marketing manager Amaka Oweazim.
Free membership brings premiums such as free Zumba and stretching classes, cholesterol and blood-pressure tests and discounts on coffee ordered before 10 a.m. Register on the mall website, and you can walk away with a gift bag of accessories, such as a Sole Steppers T-shirt, water bottle, sports towel, pedometer and backpack.
Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove also promotes its mall-walking program with free snacks, T-shirts, blood-pressure screenings and community health lectures. Eight times a year, on the last Wednesday of the month, health professionals from Stony Brook University Hospital speak to mall walkers on topics such as diet, safe walking routines and preventing falls. (Next lecture: Jan. 28 in the food court.)
"The mall, in particular, is good because it is safe, as in no tripping hazards," says Yvonne Spreckels, director of community relations for the hospital, which co-sponsors the Smith Haven Mall Walkers Club. The club has 678 members, most of whom are older than 50 and live in western Suffolk communities near the mall, Spreckels says.
If you want to get to the malls before the shoppers, take advantage of the early hours available to walkers. Stores at the bigger malls, in general, open Mondays to Saturdays, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. The Westfield malls in Bay Shore and Massapequa close at 6 p.m. on Sundays. Doors to the stores do not open early.
STEP RIGHT UP
Here's a rundown of places where you can get started as early as tomorrow morning on a new routine of walking the malls. Registration is not necessary at any of the shopping centers.
Broadway Mall, 358 N. Broadway Mall
Early opening: Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m.
Entrances: All main mall doors (not store entrances)
More info: 516-939-0679
Green Acres Mall, Sunrise Highway
Early opening: Monday-Sunday, 6 a.m.
Entrance: Door to the mall by Applebees and Chase Bank
More info: 516-561-7360 ext. 129
Roosevelt Field, 630 Old Country Rd.
Early opening: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.
Entrances: Doors on the north, south and east sides of the mall
More info: 516-742-8001
Smith Haven Mall, 313 Smith Haven Mall
Early opening: Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.
Entrances: All mall doors (not store doors)
More info: 631-724-8066
Walt Whitman Shops, Route 110
Early opening: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.; Sunday 8 a.m.
Entrances: All main doors to the mall
More info: 631-271-1746
Westfield South Shore, 1701 W. Sunrise Hwy.
Early opening: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.
Entrances: All main doors to the mall
More info: 631-665-8600
Westfield Sunrise, 1 Sunrise Mall
Early opening: Monday-Sunday, 7 a.m.
Entrances: All main mall doors to the mall