PEABODY — It’s a place to shop or eat for most people, but Tony Rosati and Paul Hardy have a different definition of the Northshore Mall.
“It’s an indoor gym for us,” Rosati said.
The Middleton resident and Salem resident Hardy are among the 400 to 500 walkers who routinely walk one, two, three, four or more miles through the main corridor tracing a route around the mall’s 400,000-square-foot main shopping complex.
Rosati and Mary and Frank Edwards of Peabody are veteran mall walkers, with Rosati switching to walking after a fitness franchise located in Northshore closed about 10 years ago. The Edwards have walked the mall for 13 years and they take good-natured ribbing about mall walking from their children in stride even as they stack up laps at Northshore.
“Their idea of exercise is a gym,” said Mary Edwards.
Owned by Simon Property Group with a Peabody address dating back 60 years, Northshore appreciates walkers and even values them as added eyes and ears on mall maintenance and security, said General Manager Mark Whiting.
“They are very good about calling things to our attention and I’ve had a chance to know many of them over the years,” Whiting said.
The unwritten rules of the road for mall walkers are pretty simple. Most walkers show up by 8 a.m. when the doors open. A complete circuit of the main shopping complex is roughly a mile and walkers stay to the right — or store side — of the mall’s promenades or main walking areas.
Running is prohibited and walkers are asked to not show up on heavy snow days so that maintenance workers who start their work day clearing snow have a chance to clean inside the mall with a minimum of foot traffic tracking in snow and slush.
Walkers end up at Northshore for a variety of reasons. Hardy underwent surgery recently and a friend recommended he take up walking to speed his recovery. The attraction of walking in a dry, well-lit place with no hills brought him to Northshore.
“It’s been helpful: You create your own workout,” he said.
Barbara Spencer of Peabody started walking Northshore four years ago with a girlfriend as an alternative to braving icy winter sidewalks. A dedicated hour-a-day walker, she convinced her husband, Stephen, to walk with her on days when her friend can’t walk.
Russell Medeiros of Peabody logs 20 miles a week at the mall with an ironclad five-day regimen that starts at 8:30 a.m. The 73-year-old said mall walking offers added perks beyond exercise. He has become friendly with fellow walkers and Barnes & Noble’s Northshore store is a frequent stop for the avid reader after he completes his laps.
Whiting said that in his 20 years at the mall, he has seen walkers join one another for coffee and talk following walks and exchange gifts during holidays.
“We’ll even call each other if we haven’t seen someone around,” Mary Edwards said.
Whiting said young mothers are recent additions to the mall walking ranks and the walkers inspired him to make the mile trek around the mall every day with his senior staff.
Patricia Teague and fellow Peabody resident Peggy Franco cemented a 20-year friendship with their three-days-a-week walks. Health problems that might maroon them on a couch become inspirations for meeting at Northshore and piling up the miles.
“Just getting out and moving is great,” Teague said.