With changes to the West Manchester Mall these mall walkers will have to disband because there will be no inside mall on the west side of York for them to
With changes to the West Manchester Mall these mall walkers will have to disband because there will be no inside mall on the west side of York for them to walk. There are about 400 members and have been together since 1981. Bil Bowden photo

Ronald Reagan had just started his presidency when they took their first strides through the then-new shopping mall on Loucks Road.

The West Manchester Mall opened in 1981, and a group of local residents started taking their morning walks through the 750,000-square-foot facility.

As they made their laps past old anchor stores The Bon-Ton, Hess's and Gee Bee Department Stores, a mall manager caught on to their daily routine and offered a deal.

"He told us, 'Why don't you start a club?'" said Beverly Mulay, president of the West Manchester Mall Walkers.

For the last 32 years, the group renewed its membership every December. They'd receive special badges, giving them permission to walk through the mall before retailers opened for business, said the 83-year-old West York resident.

"This is the first year that doesn't look like it's going to happen," she said.

Because the mall's new ownership has announced a $47 million renovation plan to transform the enclosed shopping center into an outdoor plaza, the group of walkers will likely disband, Mulay said.

"We'll have nowhere to go," she said.

Membership: The group has about 400 members, with about 50 who walk in the mall every morning.

"Many of the members are in the their 70s, 80s and 90s," Mulay said. "One man walks every day, and he's 93 years old and you'd never know it."

It will be hard to persuade those walkers to change a 32-year-old routine and drive across town to walk inside the York Galleria, let alone walk outside at the mercy of the weather, she said.

"The Pennsylvania Dutch don't like change," Mulay said.

But she said the group understands it's time for the mall to change.

The mall was 32 percent vacant when Dallas-based M&R Investors purchased the property for $17.5 million in September 2012.

M&R Investors, owned by Tony Ruggeri and Frank Mihalopoulos, previously overhauled One Hundred Oaks mall in Nashville, Tenn., restoring it from 55 percent vacancy to 99 percent occupied.

"We don't expect them to keep the mall as is just for us," Mulay said. "But we would like to know what to expect."

Ruggeri previously said construction will begin next year, but he didn't share a specific date.

Mulay said she'd like to know how much longer walkers will be able to make their laps.

Multiple calls to Ruggeri were not returned.

"We don't know if we'll be able to renew this month, or if we'll be pushed out," Mulay said.

Other activities: In addition to walking together, the group also operates as a social organization. Members take two trips a month to various places, including Atlantic City casinos and local dinner theaters.

On Monday the group will go to a local casino, and they will gather at noon Tuesday for a Christmas party at the Dover Fire Co.

They've also planned a nine-night, Bermuda and Caribbean cruise from April 24 through May 3.

While they may be able to continue organizing trips, Mulay said she's not sure where they will host their monthly meetings.

For 31 years, the group held monthly meetings in a mall office, free of charge. "This year, they started charging us $5 a table and 50 cents a chair. That's what we've been paying since September," Mulay said.

That's a $40 charge for the group that uses three tables and 50 chairs, she said.

Why mall management started to charge the walkers is unclear, as Ruggeri did not return calls seeking comment, and calls to the mall are referred to Ruggeri.

"Some members suggested we talk to local fire companies to see if we can have meetings there, but I'm not sure what we're going to do," Mulay said. "I just know we're going to miss the mall when it's gone."

--Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.