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by Ashley M. Heher

Schaumburg, Ill. (AP) – Something’s amiss at the mall.

The parking lots at the biggest shopping centers are still filling up on weekends, the food courts bustle with hungry customers and walkways are crowded with gangly teenagers and stroller-wielding moms.

Look closely, though, and you’ll see there aren’t many bags. That’s because shoppers at some of the country’s busiest retail centers aren’t buying. Not much, anyway.

If that sounds like grim news for retailers, consider what their landlords are facing. Unless shoppers begin spending again – soon – some experts worry the great American hangout may be in jeopardy.

Already one mall in Florida has been foreclosed on, and experts predict that others will be forced to close as their tenants shutter their doors in the recession.

The weekend crowds remain steady at Woodfield Mall, a 2.3 million-square foot behemoth in the middle-class community of Schaumburg, despite thousands job cuts by hometown cell phone maker Motorola Inc. But the waves of shoppers filling the mall aren’t spending much.

“You’re just hanging,” said Belinda Turner, a 47-year-old who came to Woodfield Mall in Chicago’s suburbs with her husband John, their 11-year-old daughter and a strict $150 budget. “You can come and you can look and you can have food. But you don’t buy. Or you buy small things.”

On a recent Saturday, mall walkers start doing laps at 7 a.m. along the two miles of corridors. Shoppers start trickling in when the 300 stores opened three hours later, and crowds filled the marbled floors in the afternoon. In the evening, the mall became a date destination and teenage paradise.

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