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Tacoma mall a Trolley template?

Business for shops in Washington back to normal after November 2005 incident

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 7:38 a.m. MDT

In November 2005, a 20-year-old man armed with a semiautomatic weapon made his way through a mall in Tacoma, Wash., shooting randomly as people fled screaming. When he emerged some hours later, six people were wounded, one seriously.
More than a year later, business at Tacoma Mall has largely resumed normal levels. For some, the recovery was quick. But other businesses say they're just now returning to normalcy.
"You know when Mount St. Helens blew, and the trees went down like toothpicks? That's kind of how the people fell in the mall" when the shooting started, said Karen Edmonson, manager at Mark's Hallmark. "You could watch outside, and it was like the domino effect, the people going down onto the ground to escape the ricochets or anything."
The shop had three people on staff that day, who helped customers escape through the back of the store. It was terrifying, Edmondson said. But even then, she said, "people knew it for what it was."
"It was an isolated incident, obviously a gentleman that was just very, very angry, who was a little lost that way," Edmondson said.
There are similarities between the shootings in Tacoma and Monday's incident at Salt Lake's Trolley Square: both happened at malls, both were seemingly random, both were seemingly carried out by young, disaffected men against unknown victims. Employees at the various stores at both sites helped hide customers and provide shelter from the panic and the bullets.
There are also differences. All told, six people were shot at Tacoma Mall, none fatally. Five victims suffered what police called minor injuries, while one suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was paralyzed in the incident. Three people were held hostage for hours before being released. The suspect, Dominick Maldonado, is awaiting trial.
Trolley Square is just now beginning the healing process, with some vendors opening their doors Wednesday amid boarded-up windows, shot through and cracked. Others have chosen to wait. Trolley's owners say they're committed to continuing with their planned renovation project, which promised new anchor tenants, brighter interiors in the main building and possibly even condominiums. It is not known how that project, or the psyche of one of Utah's historic gathering places, will proceed.
Perhaps Tacoma Mall provides a template. Perhaps not. But business in Tacoma is largely back to normal.
Edmonson credited Tacoma Police and mall management for keeping the situation as calm and safe as possible during the evacuation and hostage negotiations, which facilitated a quick resumption of business.
"They were right on top of it all the way," Edmonson said. "The major importance was to get the customers out of the mall so they'd be safe."
Within days, Edmonson said, customers had returned.
Kimberly Reason, spokeswoman for Macy's department store — one of the anchor tenants at Tacoma Mall — agreed.
"What I remember about Tacoma was that business bounced back very quickly because law enforcement reacted quickly," Reason said. "My recollection is that by the next day business was fairly back to normal."
Tacoma Mall management did not immediately respond to the Deseret Morning News' request for information.
It took longer for customers to return to some businesses, particularly some that were closer to the site of the shooting, according to some shop owners and employees.
"I do know that it ruined our Christmas (shopping) season," said an employee at That Kitchen Shop, a specialty kitchen-supply store, who asked not to be identified. "I think people just did not want to come to the mall, and more specifically to this end of the mall, where it happened."
Robert K. Bruce, manager of Tinder Box, a specialty cigar/pipe/gift shop, said it took months for his store to recover.
"It was probably a good eight to nine months" before business returned to a more regular pace, Bruce said. "I think some customers showed a lot of fear, coming back to the mall."
Still, Bruce said he was never tempted to pull up stakes.
"I've been here 10 years, and the store's been here since the mall opened," he said. "So, no. I wasn't tempted."


E-mail: jnii@desnews.com

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