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by Eric Gershon and Janice Podsada

Shopping mall operators know time is money, and that’s why they’re trying something new in the nation’s painful economic winter – saving money by giving shoppers less time to spend it.

At least two major operators of American malls have decided to shorten business hours for properties in several states, including at least four malls in Connecticut.

Starting Sunday, the Westfield malls in Meriden, Milford and Trumbull – owned by Westfield Group of Australia – plan to shorten mall hours by one hour on weekdays and half an hour on Saturdays, said Lee Sterling, a Westfield spokeswoman in Milford. Sunday hours will remain the same, she said.

Crystal Mall in Waterford, owned by Simon Property Group of Indianapolis, already shortened its hours by one hour in early January. Formerly open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, it is now open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday hours were changed from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. to noon to 6 p.m. Simon, the largest mall operator in the United States, also reduced hours at its other New England malls and several malls in Pennsylvania.

Several other companies that own or operate malls in Connecticut said Monday they are reviewing mall hours, but have not yet decided whether to change them.

“Westfield has made the change to help our retailers, conserve resources and respond to changing consumer demand and traffic patterns,” Sterling said.

Consumer spending fell nationwide for six straight months through December, and, despite a slight increase in January, retail analysts generally expect spending to decline again as layoffs mount.In response to the dismal economy, retailers and the shopping centers face pressure to cut costs without alienating customers. As they strive for efficiency, they’re taking pains to match business hours with the hours when consumers most want to shop.

“This is a way to save without doing something drastic,” said Daniel Butler, vice president of retail operations for the National Retail Federation, an industry group. Shorter hours reduce energy and management costs for the mall operator, and stores save on payroll and, in some cases, utilities.

“The consumer shops more on evenings and weekends,” Butler said. “At most stores the first hour or so, especially Monday through Thursday, is pretty quiet.”

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