What is a Mall Rat?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Shopping malls attract many different types of visitors during their hours of operation. Some are destination shoppers, who have specific needs and specific stores in mind. Others prefer to browse favorite stores and perhaps make a few impulse buys along the way. There are those shopping mall visitors who have little intention of actually shopping, and tend to use the venue as a teenage pastime or hang out. Such a person is known as a mall rat.

Malls rats hang around in malls but aren't looking to buy anything.
Malls rats hang around in malls but aren't looking to buy anything.

A mall rat is generally an adolescent who spends much of his or her spare time congregating with friends at a local shopping mall. Sometimes a mall rat is actually employed at one of the mall's stores or restaurants, but it can be in the mall rat's best interest to remain unaffiliated with any of the mall's tenants. It would not be unusual for most store employees and managers to be very familiar with a regular crowd of mall rats.

Mall rats are often associated with higher incidents of shoplifting.
Mall rats are often associated with higher incidents of shoplifting.

Besides congregating in the public areas of a shopping mall, mall rats may also travel from store to store in small packs. Mall security officers tend to watch these packs very closely, since incidents of vandalism or shoplifting are often observed by store owners. A seasoned mall rat may also harass other customers verbally or make life difficult for shoppers in general.

A mall rat generally knows the inner workings of a shopping mall better than most casual visitors. By networking with mall employees and running their own reconnaissance missions, mall rats often learn of new store openings or other developments weeks in advance. The relationship between mall employees and mall rats can be one of mutual respect as long as the basic rules of engagement are strictly observed.

Writer and director Kevin Smith put the mall rat phenomenon on the public radar with his film Mallrats. In the film, a group of mall rats and fashionistas aimlessly roam through a typical shopping mall, occasionally interacting with sympathetic mall employees or avoiding detection by mall security officers.

Because a shopping mall provides many creature comforts for its visitors, it can be a very popular destination for unemployed or underemployed adolescents with little spending money and little else to do. A mall rat wants to socialize with his or her friends, but this may be problematic in a real world setting. A shopping mall provides a safe environment in which teens and young adults can congregate on equal ground. Perhaps this explains the appeal of a shopping mall to restless adolescents looking for excitement and companionship.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Malls are also busy places, which also appeals to the young and restless among us. Plus, in a mall, teens can discuss what they might feel uncomfortable discussing at home where the parental units might overhear. In the noisy, anonymous mall atmosphere, however, anything goes.

If a single mall rat or a pack is harassing someone, that person should immediately go to the store or mall manager and complain.

I was in a lingerie store with my sister and two male mall rats (about 13 or 14) were in there and started making ugly comments about my sister. I complained to the manager, who told them to get out and not come back.

Unfortunately, they hung around the store's entrance and started hassling us when we left the store. I told them to get lost or I'd call the cops - the real cops, not the mall variety. They said I didn't know who they were. I told them maybe not, but they were all over the store cameras and mall cameras and they'd better get a head start or I'd have the cops calling their parents to come get them because they didn't know how to act in public. They split. Fortunately, most mall rats are too intent on their personal teen universes to waste time on boring adults.

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