Does anyone know anything about the back corridors in malls behind the stores?
March 15, 2009 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know anything about the back corridors in malls behind the stores?

This is kinda a tricky question because it makes me sound like I'm going to burglarize a mall, but I don't know how else to ask it.

Okay, I'm writing this short story about a group of friends who all work in a mall. They weren't friends before, but got to be friends after they all started working there.

Trouble is, I've never worked retail, and I've never worked in a mall before. Sometimes though, inside a mall, I'm tempted to go exploring, just to answer some questions, but I've always been deterred by the Authorized Personnel Only signs.

I googled 'Mall Blueprints', to find out the layout of malls, but understandably, for security reasons, anything but the basic layout of a mall, like the kinds they have on these black plinths near the entrance for shoppers, aren't shown.

So I guess what I'm wondering is this - I know that there are these corridors that run behind the stores in some malls. They're pretty basic and ugly and sometimes there are cardboard boxes and stuff in them - in my story, my characters like to go into them and smoke.

But I've also got this huge elaborate scene later on and I just want to know if it's possible for someone to exit a store into the corridor, then go to an elevator just off the corridor and take it down to the loading docks, with stops in between that let out into a parking lot structure. Essentially, these kids begin to hang out in these areas. This is their "club house".

I know that a lot of malls are different, and that it would depend on the mall. But does this make sense? Or to someone who's ever actually worked in a mall - would they cry bullshit on this sort of layout?

That's all. Thank you in advance.
posted by Sully to Shopping (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I worked at a mall store and your scene describes pretty much exactly what we had to do to take out the garbage.
posted by gjc at 7:49 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

in my story, my characters like to go into them and smoke.

That wouldn't work--they would probably set off the fire detectors, or at least get into trouble when they were caught. You can't smoke in those corridors.

someone to exit a store into the corridor, then go to an elevator just off the corridor and take it down to the loading docks, with stops in between that let out into a parking lot structure.

This is possible if you worked there, except I've never worked anywhere where you could exit to a parking lot without entering the customer area of the mall. Taking an elevator off the corridor to the loading docks is right though: one place I worked this was the only way to take out the trash. Mall freight elevators can be really creepy.
posted by Violet Hour at 7:54 PM on March 15, 2009

Totally plausible. I've been in back corridors that have service elevator access, I've been in malls that had a parking level above the shipping/receiving area. With so many possible ways to layout a building the size of a mall, I don't think you'd be asking for an unreasonable suspension of disbelief to describe this layout. Don't over-describe the mall; most people have a very good sense of what a mall is and will simply imagine your characters in their local/favorite mall.
posted by chudmonkey at 7:54 PM on March 15, 2009

It's been a few years since I roamed the back corridors of a mall, but the main thing thing about that that triggered my BS detector is smoking in the corridors. I'd have been busted pretty hard for that. ('Course it depends where and when your story is set.)

Seems perfectly reasonable that a back stage freight elevator would stop at the parking and loading docs.

Every place I ever worked that had a loading dock that was where all of the smokers in the building would hang out. The cool kids all hung out near the industrial trash compactor (which was 90 degrees from the loading docs in my mall). Loading docks were busy and full of adults. The compactor room had a giant dangerous machine that only got used once a day and it smelled a funky enough that kids would hang out there but adults would avoid it.
posted by Ookseer at 7:54 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's your story, so you can do pretty much whatever you want. Here's one possible way to solve your problem:

"We used to go into the service corridor behind the store and share a cigarette on our breaks. Frank had fiddled with the smoke detector back there so it wouldn't go off. He was good with stuff like that."
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:57 PM on March 15, 2009

Yeah, smoking would be detected pretty quick. Those corridors, although not full of patrons, are pretty busy with employee coming and going. Some malls even have customer bathrooms and water fountains in those corridors. Also, the back doors of stores open into those halls every X number of feet. In our local mall, even though the corridors exit to the outside for deliveries and garbage, customers often use these doors to enter the mall, as they are not locked during mall hours.

But, since this is your story, you can, within reason, make up your own mall layout. For example, maybe there are areas where metal/spiral stairs lead to catwalks for use by maintenance to access ductwork/ventilation and/or lighting above the false ceilings of the stores.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:03 PM on March 15, 2009

Surely Dawn of the Dead should have the answer to all your questions?
posted by Artw at 8:10 PM on March 15, 2009

In my experience (as a casual stocktaker), the bigger the shopping centre, the simpler the delivery infrastructure. It sounds odd but it's true.
A massive shopping centre is likely to have multiple loading docks attached directly to the back end of the shop for each major store, rather than one shared dock linked with a warren of tunnels as you're imagining. Groceries are delivered to the supermarket, furniture goes to the IKEA, clothes go to Target, and they don't meet. In small and medium sized outer-suburban shopping centres, there are fewer loading docks for deliveries and more of the shops share them, and there's far less division between customer parking and the back end of the shops. You get confused lost shoppers being barked at by forklift drivers, and back-end workers watching the spectacle like Romans at a cut-price Circus.
Because they usually have fewer levels, smaller shopping centres are less likely to have goods lifts and "invisible" infrastructure, and their loading docks are more likely to be filthy, covered in the refuse of dozens of failed businesses, and taken over by badly-paid, smoking, drug-taking teenagers.
Also, to be honest, I always found retail workers far less sociable than storemen and packers in separated off-site warehouses—a very gregarious bunch, as a rule.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:14 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

All the detail you need, previously.
posted by webhund at 8:20 PM on March 15, 2009

I once ended up in one of these blank, dusty corridors when I was trying to make my way from the loading dock to a temporary concert hall (read: some cheesy corporate show in the middle of a shopping mall). Once we entered the hall, all doors were mysteriously locked, except the emergency-exit door connected to a central alarm system, and covered with warning notices. We ended up banging on a random door until a poor Zellers employee opened the door and we found ourselves in the middle of the lady's clothing section, a whole bunch of clients looking at us as if we were, indeed, going to shop-lift the place.
posted by ddaavviidd at 8:21 PM on March 15, 2009

Seems like a reasonable description, but yeah the smoke part probably wouldn't fly... its usually prohibited and the security guards tend to hang out in the back halls because its usually empty.

The smoking area tends to be in the loading docs, the trade-off is that the mall garbage compactor in the large mall I worked at was the most foul smelling area imaginable. Think of a warm, sour, industrial-sized milk smell, in an area that always seemed to be very, very cold even in the summer... and it sometimes wafted through the back hauls, it wasn't a place you wanted to be.
posted by Deep Dish at 8:24 PM on March 15, 2009

My store has a back door that opens into one of those back corridors-it's how we get our shipments. There are some corridors that have large storage cages made of lumber and chicken wire with "doors" on them-each store can rent one for extra storage for crazy exorbitant fees (think $250 a month) if your back room cant' hold everything you need it to. We also have service elevators so that the stores on the second story can receive shipments and take their trash out. Also, our back corridors do open right out onto some areas of the customer parking lot, it's how we get in 2 hours before the mall opens.
posted by hollygoheavy at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2009

I wonder if it's a safer bet that they find a little-used corridor to pass the bottle instead of smoke. Easier to hide if anyone is coming, and no noticeable odor or telltale smoke.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:29 PM on March 15, 2009

If you want your story to get really crazy WRT the 'club house' part, have a look at this link where they found an unused storage room in the mall parking lot and turned it into an apartment of sorts.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:48 PM on March 15, 2009

That wouldn't work--they would probably set off the fire detectors, or at least get into trouble when they were caught. You can't smoke in those corridors.

You sure used to be able to. I smoked plenty of cigarettes and grass in exactly these corridors in a mall in the Ozarks in the early 90's.

Man, what a sentence that was.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:57 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

your discription sounds exactly like the mall i'm working in.
posted by swbarrett at 9:05 PM on March 15, 2009

Did you ever hear about this?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:22 PM on March 15, 2009

It sounds about right. In the mall where I work, the corridors run the perimeter of the external walls, but they get twisty and interesting where a newer part of the mall has been added. I go back there as a shortcut to the food court, so I don't have to navigate crowds of customers. I never have my name badge on me and my store doesn't even use the corridors (we're a dept store with our own receiving dock) but no one's ever questioned my being there.

Others have said that what jumped out at them as unrealistic was the smoking, but what did it for me is that your characters, mall employees, want to stay at the mall after their shifts are over...Or is it that they're sneaking off on the clock? During lunch breaks? I just don't know anyone who works retail who wants to hang around after. My teenage coworkers like their jobs just fine & are friends with each other, but they are out of there the minute their shift ends. I just hope you have a reasonable explanation for why your characters like the mall so much.

There was an episode (the Christmas episode) of Life, I believe, where a couple of kids were found living in a mall. They had modified an unused corridor into a bedroom.
posted by jschu at 9:34 PM on March 15, 2009

Unless you're writing a story with mall architecture as a theme or whatever, your readers will suspend their disbelief as long as the mechanics and logistics etc seem reasonably plausible.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 PM on March 15, 2009

I've seen exits from the aisles/main part of the mall into these sorts of corridors, but rarely from a store into them. Typically the stores exit into some sort of storage area (that is not accessible except through the store, generally) or directly to the outdoors.

No, if it's an enclosed mall, there will quite often be corridors that connect the rears of any number of shops to loading, trash and storage facilities, as well as an exit. The corridors will typically be fire rated and is required for the stores to have two exits a certain distance apart, which are generally required by fire code. Whether that exit is external or onto a corridor depends on the climate and how the mall is built. In my area, where there are a lot of exterior malls, there'll be a common courtyard behind a ring of stores; that courtyard will then have a larger exit away from the buildings.

If you want your story to get really crazy WRT the 'club house' part, have a look at this link where they found an unused storage room in the mall parking lot and turned it into an apartment of sorts.

I used to work for a firm that designed all sorts of retail buildings. Our buildings would frequently include architectural elements, like towers or raised roofs, that could not be accessed from the interior of any of the buildings (there's no point in making them open to below if someone's just going to put in a lowered ceiling anyway). Instead, you had to get in via an access door located above the roof. To get onto the roof itself, we'd usually have a ladder enclosed in a room that also held some other services, like the telephone board, electrical panels, or fire sprinkler riser pipe. We had one building where homeless people moved into one of the towers and were running electricity into it from somewhere else in the building, presumably from one of the rooftop air conditioning units, to power their sweet little setup with a hotplate, a TV, and other items.
posted by LionIndex at 10:16 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ignatius J. Reilly, ozarks? fayetteville's mall by chance? you would totally be able to smoke in those in the 90s. long, slender, white hallways, flimsy locks, dripping air conditioners...

good times
posted by nadawi at 12:48 AM on March 16, 2009

I played Santa in a mall here in Japan last winter and seeing the back hallways of a Japanese mall was quite interesting. Might not pertain to your story, but you might find them interesting.

Three quick things I noticed.

1. The walls were exposed drywall which was about the same as the other mall hallways I've seen.
2. Even in Japan there is toilet graffiti, although it was only in the grout and some of the comments were people bragging about how cool their stores were. I can't see American retail workers doing that.
3. Smoking was fine in the communal smoking/break room and there was a request form on the cigarette vending machine for any brands wanted.
posted by sleepytako at 6:04 AM on March 16, 2009

I worked in a store which had a small storage area in the back. From that storage area was a door to the hallway, which led directly to a garbage area from which I could access the parking lot without ever having to enter the "real" part of the mall. I would also take that route to the garbage area on my smoke breaks, but you couldn't smoke in the hallways because of the alarms.

So what you're considering is at least plausible, but you'd have to explain the lack of smoke detectors as turgid dahlia suggests as well as the absence of other employees who might rat you out (those hallways are fairly heavily used by employees who want to avoid the customer crowds, so disabling an alarm is one thing but the risk of getting caught by someone who'd rat and/or security is still fairly high).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:15 AM on March 16, 2009

To solve the smoking problem (which I see most likely as other employees/security ratting them out), how about there's a section of corridors where, say, there's only 2 stores attached, 1 of which is closed and the other doesn't use the back hallway entrance? The disable the smoke detector. That also solves the issue of random employees just walking through their space to take out the trash or whatever.
posted by KAS at 10:19 AM on March 16, 2009

What if you covered the smoke detector with a plastic bag and rubberband? Highly illegal, yes, but plausible?

A store I used to work at was converted into such from an old mall. A lot of the corridors from the mall ceased to be used (since they didn't go anywhere anymore) and eventually homeless people started living in them.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 1:26 PM on March 16, 2009

I worked at the mall. We totally smoked in the corridors. There weren't any smoke detectors in there. The floors were cement and it wasn't air condtioned-heated in any way. It was more like being in a parking deck or warehouse than being inside the mall proper.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 2:06 PM on March 16, 2009

I just went to my local mall website and noticed that the map they show has enough detail that you can see where all the inner corridors are. You may find it interesting, as I see you were looking for blueprints but couldn't find any. Too bad it's only a one-story mall. Link.
posted by bristolcat at 3:18 PM on March 16, 2009

Response by poster: I don't understand how it is these
smoke detectors are so powerful.

They must be different than the ones
we have in our homes. Domestic ones
tend not to sense cigarette smoke.
Are the ones in malls extra-sensitive?

I remember my dad smoking and never
setting off the alarms in the kitchen
with his cigs. Maybe the ones in malls
are industrial-strength smoke detectors.

Bristolcat - that's very cool!

Hey everyone who answered, thanks so
much. It's really helped a lot. I feel that
my situations is a very plausible now.
I was only kind of going by inference
and assumption. I was charmed by people's
account of the smell trash compactor.
That's a detail that will really sell any scenes
I set in the loading bay. I don't yet know
why these kids would spend more time
at the mall when they're not working just yet.
Maybe their home lives suck. Or maybe they'll
find a way to convert an empty space
into a small clubhouse space, I don't know yet.
However, you've all given me much material
and I thank you.
loading bay
posted by Sully at 6:39 PM on March 16, 2009

Sully writes "I don't yet know
"why these kids would spend more time
"at the mall when they're not working just yet"

Could be they are working split shifts?
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 PM on March 16, 2009

I don't understand how it is these
smoke detectors are so powerful.

They must be different than the ones
we have in our homes.

Are you kidding? Mine goes off when I make light toast. (Which reminds me, I haven't put the battery back in...)

And you don't want to trigger a smoke alarm in the mall. It can set off a chain of alarms and strobe lights (for the deaf) in the area and annoys the crap out of everyone in that corner of the mall for ten minutes until someone figures out it's not on fire and turns it off.
posted by Ookseer at 12:51 AM on March 17, 2009

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