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Wrentham, outlets still at odds over cameras

Shoppers are still waiting a final decision on “Midnight Madness” at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets.

Wiqan Ang/Globe file photo/2006

Shoppers are still waiting a final decision on “Midnight Madness” at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets.

WRENTHAM — “Midnight Madness,” the massive all-night after-Thanksgiving shopping event at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, remains in limbo after town and mall officials were unable Wednesday to settle a dispute about installing security cameras at the mall.

Mall officials agreed to put in 10 ­security cameras, but only on the condition that the outlets no longer have to come before the Wrentham Planning Board each year for permission to hold the Midnight Madness event.

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Members of the Planning Board balked at that idea, agreeing to allow the mall to open early on Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season, on the condition that it install 10 security cameras before that date, but ignoring the mall’s conditions.

The town’s rejection of the mall’s conditions leaves this year’s event in doubt, said Lawrence Kaplan, an attorney representing Simon Property Group, which owns the mall.

“The status is in limbo,” Kaplan said. “I have to check with my client.”

Several members of the Planning Board bristled at the notion that they should give up their right to annually review the event in exchange for the security cameras.

“All we’re asking for is some basic security at the mall,” said Planning Board member Alex Lyon. “It seems like a simple, straightforward request by the town.”

Local police have been pushing for the mall to install security cameras.

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“I don’t believe this board should be giving up its rights,” said another member, George Smith. 

Representatives from stores in the mall said shutting down the event would cost their businesses huge amounts of money.

“If we do not have Midnight Madness, unfortunately, that will cut into our bottom line. We make budgets forecasting on last year,” said Isaac Larkin, adding that he was part of the management team for two shoe stores at the outlets. “We are in a bad economic state. Every dollar counts. Every hour counts. If we do not have those hours in the beginning, that costs us thousand of dollars.”

Local police have been pushing since at least the beginning of the year for the mall to install security cameras, citing both massive Midnight Madness crowds and crimes like shoplifting and armed robbery that have occurred at other times of the year.

“If you’re here from a store tonight, this is for your safety,” Wrentham police Detective Lieutenant William McGrath told the meeting. “This is only about your safety. There’s no money in our pockets. There’s no money for the town.

Police respond to several calls a day on the weekends and several more throughout the week, and they don’t currently have surveillance footage — which police say is “an industry-standard tool” — to help them solve crimes.

Police say most calls to the mall are for shoplifting, but more serious crimes like armed robbery and abductions have occurred. The mall, police say, attracts gang members who engage in organized theft and resell items on the black market.

Police have said that last year’s Midnight Madness event was “relatively incident-free,” but that the large crowds make the outlets a potential “soft target” for terrorists.

Mall officials initially resisted the idea of cameras, saying that past Midnight Madness events have gone smoothly, and arguing that the issue of whether to install cameras should be separate from whether the mall is allowed to open early on the day after Thanksgiving.

“We’ve been accused of using Midnight Madness as leverage, and I think we are, but it’s legitimate leverage,” McGrath said. “It is the most busy day of the year. It’s the day when we’re most vulnerable for something to go wrong.”

Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@yahoo.com.
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