BOWLING GREEN - Following a recent knee surgery, Victor Kimsal found out just how convenient the motorized scooters that many stores have for the handicapped and disabled can be.
But on Christmas Eve, the Bowling Green man was surprised to be told by a Woodland Mall employee that he'd have to pay $15 if he wanted to use the scooter to get around the mall on the Wood County city's north side.
"I said, 'Wal-Mart and Kroger and Meijer have these vehicles for people to use and they don't charge.' She basically snubbed me and turned her back," Mr. Kimsal, 50, said.
Because he was getting around on crutches, he and his teenage son decided to drive to Dunham's Sports at the far end of the mall, where he told his story to the store manager, Christina La Marche. She rented the scooter for Mr. Kimsal, enabling him and his son to finish their shopping and have dinner at the food court. "I just made sure he could shop," Ms. La Marche said.
Despite managing one of the mall stores, she said she had no idea mall shoppers had to pay to use the motorized scooter. No other area mall contacted by The Blade that had a scooter or scooters available reported charging for their use.
Ms. La Marche said she plans to bring the issue up at the next meeting of the Woodland Mall Merchants Association.
"It's something I never thought about until he came in and told me about it," Ms. La Marche said, adding that she would like to see all disabled shoppers have access to the scooter free of charge.
Mall Manager Corrina Warren said Woodland does offer free use of strollers and wheelchairs but requires a $15 deposit for use of the motorized scooter, which it purchased in 2005.
The mall refunds the customer $10 if the scooter comes back in good condition, she said. The balance helps pay for maintenance on the scooter, she said.
Mr. Kimsal said when he inquired about the scooter, he was neither told that any of the $15 would be refunded nor was he offered a wheelchair.
Still, he said he is on a limited income and would not have rented the cart even if he had been told that. "It should be a free service for customers," he said.
"The mall loses money by people not shopping there."
While they are not required to offer motorized scooters to customers, more and more shopping malls and large retail stores do.
The battery-powered devices generally range in cost from about $500 to $1,700, depending on the number of wheels (three or four), speed (some go over 10 mph), and weight capacity (most are built to 250-pound passenger capacity, though some can handle 500 pounds or more).
At Westfield Franklin Park in West Toledo, two scooters are available at no cost on a first-come, first-served basis, said Sara Young, marketing director. Customers are asked to leave their driver's license and fill out a release form before they take the scooter out.
"Westfield prides itself on customer service and the amenities that we have not only include electric scooters and wheelchairs but complimentary kiddie cruisers. We have about 50 in our fleet," Ms. Young said.
Brenda Czarnecki, office administrator for the Findlay Village Mall, said the mall has one motorized scooter that's available to shoppers at no cost, and it's frequently in use.
"It's part of our customer service especially for the older people and the handicapped and even younger people - it's for anybody who can't walk our mall, so at least they can get around our mall with a motorized scooter," she said.
The Sandusky Mall does not have any scooters but does offer free wheelchairs for shoppers, a spokesman said.
In Bowling Green, Ms. Warren said that if the mall's scooter gets enough use, the mall might be able to buy a second scooter or begin offering the service free of charge.
For now, though, "We have to charge at least something to maintain the repairs on it," she said.
"You wouldn't believe how people crash into things."
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