Customers need not apply, as Berkshire Mall remains dark Thursday

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LANESBOROUGH — One after another, shoppers arriving Thursday morning at the Berkshire Mall assumed the position: Hands cupped around their eyes to peer into the darkened space.

They did it on the south side, near the Regal Cinemas entry.

On the north side.

Not so much on the west side, since it's a ghost town over there, at that end of the hulking structure, most of it long ago stripped of corporate come-ons.

Though the future of the mall seems to hang by a thread, after the departure of most national retailers, life got even harder Thursday for the dozen or so small shops that remain.

The mall didn't open as scheduled at 10 a.m., with nary a sign posted about why. For hours, would-be customers went home without taking out their wallets.

Greg Lawson, of Pittsfield, arrived on the bus, having invested about $3 worth of round-trip transit money, intent on a little shopping.

By 10:30 a.m. he and a friend were back at a bus stop, smoking and pulling from cans of energy drinks they bought at Target, the only place selling anything up here Thursday morning.

Lawson recalls Fridays when traffic was thick as a throughway up here. He was disgusted by his experience Thursday, scanning the lot for his bus, and not just because he had to ding his CharlieCard twice for nothing.

"Honestly, this mall is going to hell," Lawson said.

Repeated efforts to reach the mall's on-site manager, James Ruiz, were unsuccessful. A door to a management entrance was padlocked from outside. An employee-only door opened into a dark corridor — with no one answering a holler of "anybody home?"

Later, the phone rang and rang in the mall office.

In fact, phones were ringing all around the place midday Thursday — with no one picking up. This can be known. It was The Eagle calling.

No answer at the shop called A Dollar. Nobody home at Lee Nails. Ditto for Foot Locker.

The phone at Fan Zone was out of service. No one picked up at Shoe Department or Hannoush Jewelers. The number for the shop Journeys rang for a while and then a voice came on.

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But it was a recording. "The associates at this location are not able to answer your call at this time," said a man's calm and reasonable voice. "Please try back at a later time."

A few people trudging back to their cars in the empty lots shook their heads when approached, warning new arrivals that the mall was locked up tight. One or two said they had been able to get a quick comment from mall staff sealed up inside the building. Lawson had managed to get inside long enough to be told the bathrooms were out of order.

A shop owner waited by the cinema entry, unable to get to his business. He had left his cellphone inside and wanted to retrieve it.

"Yeah, I'm losing business. What to do?" the man asked. He declined to give his name, saying he wanted to remain on good terms with the mall.

After all, with 20 years invested in business up on this hill in Lanesborough, he feels an attachment to the place. And they keep lowering his rent because of the demise of foot traffic.

The shop owner said the mall was closed due to the lack of electricity — a problem that has sidelined the place before. Managers showed him evidence that a bill had been paid, but something still prevented the mall from opening.

What? He didn't know. Others said they had heard it was a problem with a water supply. A few hundred yards away, Target, which owns its building, appeared to be operating without a hitch. A family with children that couldn't get into the mall around 11 a.m. ambled off toward Target instead, a child excitedly skipping ahead.

On the other side of the mall, the driver of a Lanesborough Council on Aging van waited for her rider to emerge from Target. She had parked with a view of the whole back lot. Nobody bothers parking between the lines any longer, at least those still visible.

Not far off, two women from North Street in Pittsfield walked the empty parking lot for exercise, having been unable to get inside for their usual morning strides. They carried small folded umbrellas, just in case; they agreed, yes, spring might finally be here.

The walkers said they'll stick with the mall as long as they can. They pooh-pooh questions they get from friends about the safety of the place, now that there are fewer customers.

But the indoor route is tightening, they say. Staff has closed off parts of the only walking route.

The women said that as many as three dozen people still turn out for daily constitutionals inside the mall, an amenity the business advertises on its website: "Loop is 9/10ths mile following black line around the center perimeter," a post reads.

But it gets the hours wrong. And according to papers taped to some of the entry doors, the mall isn't open Sundays any more.

Even when it is open.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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