A dozen seniors shaded themselves beneath trees last week as the summer sun baked the asphalt in the parking lot at the Broadway Commons Mall in Hicksville, where they had just completed a few laps inside.

“We don’t see our regular families much because of the virus, but we manage to get together with our walker family,” said Richard Huber, 75, a retired New York City police officer from Levittown. “The mall is the perfect environment because it’s temperature controlled.”

For decades the mall has been a social hub for retirees who wanted to keep active, but COVID-19 disrupted their routine when the pandemic forced operators of the 1.2-million-square-foot shopping center to close their doors on March 19. The mall reopened July 10, and within days the walkers had returned, though social distancing rules meant the conversations about grandchildren, health, weather and doctors could no longer continue at the food court or inside Panera Bread. So they brought fold up chairs from home and found shade in a handful of parking spots where they could chat in the open air.

Management is neither prohibiting nor encouraging the outdoor gatherings, said Amaka Oweazim, marketing director and business development manager at the mall. “We're kind of trying to stay away from setting up a place where people can gather,” Oweazim said, adding that they would like to find a way to offer the walkers shade while staying within state guidelines.

Face coverings are required inside the mall, and security guards will hand out free masks to anyone who needs one, Oweazim said. The mall welcomes the walkers and tried to set up formal programs in the past, but Oweazim said the seniors tend to prefer informal groups.

“People feel comfortable coming to the center,” she said. “They feel safe and they feel like they can walk around and get their workout in and still shop right afterwards and not feel as if they're being brushed off by security.”

Adults who regularly stay active through activities such as brisk walking reduce their risk for heart disease, strokes, diabetes, certain cancers and depressions, according to “Mall Walking: A Program Resource Guide” published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Washington.

One rule among the walkers is that politics and religion are off limits for discussion. Over the years the social bonds among them have led to taking vacations, ocean cruises and bus tours together — activities off limits now because of the pandemic.

“We used to go out,” said Julio Gonzalez, 86, of Bethpage, who sat in the parking lot with his wife, Lillian, 84. “But what we do is stay home more now.”

“We wish we could go dancing,” Lillian said.

Jeanette Murphy, 80, of East Meadow, returned to the mall to walk with her husband, Daniel — after recovering from a bout with COVID-19 — for the feeling of community.

“You don’t have to worry about what you say or how you say it, nobody criticizes you,” Murphy said. “You always meet somebody, you’ll always wave to somebody you know and it’s a good feeling.”


One inside lap at Broadway Commons Mall in Hicksville is 3/4 of a mile

Face masks required

Doors open at 10 a.m.

Source: Broadway Commons Mall

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