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Sunday, April 24, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Large

Southcenter comments draw wrath of readers

Last week I wrote about a comment made by Kemper Freeman Jr., who was comparing people who shop at Southcenter with the folks who shop at his mall, Bellevue Square.

Freeman was quoted in a newspaper story saying, "When you walk through the [Southcenter] mall, the way the customer dresses just to shop there — the light blue and pink hair curlers, the shoes that flop, flop, flop along — it's a completely different customer." I was taken aback by the comment, and so were many of you.

• Raynette, in Seattle, said she shops at both malls:

"I read the article you referred to and noted what Kemper Freeman said about Southcenter's customers. That day I did think, 'Oh, no, he didn't!' I told my husband that it's strange how someone so successful would be stupid enough to possibly lose business by alienating Southcenter's customers. He pointed out that Freeman may actually want to alienate customers that he looks down on, thinking it would be better for the type of business he wants to attract (well-heeled). We usually just wear jeans to Bellevue Square. Maybe we'll wear sweats next time."

• Jeanie, in Bonney Lake:

"I don't normally write to columnists, but I am ridiculously in love with Bellevue Square.

"Here's how I would sum up the difference between Bellevue Square and Southcenter. I go to Southcenter to get things done. In a matter of a few hours I can hit the mall, Babies R Us, Barnes & Noble, etc. and efficiently take care of a month's worth of errands. I go to Bellevue Square for an excursion of escape. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last year (my husband and I have the cutest 11-month-old twins) and I can no longer afford to do anything in Bellevue but gaze at all the pretty merchandise perfectly displayed. It's the Wisteria Lane of shopping malls."

• Maria left no room for nuance in her reaction:

"Interesting — but you are avoiding the obvious: Eastsiders are SNOBS!!!!!!!!! Freeman leads the pack!"

Of course, that isn't true of everyone on the Eastside, but a number of readers believe there is more pretension on that side of the lake than they find elsewhere.

• Linda, in Seattle:

"I appreciate that you picked up on Kemper's insulting, snobby comments about the difference between his mall and the rest of the little world.

"I prefer to dress casually, and outside of work I seldom bother with makeup. I'm the kind of person who couldn't get service at Nordstrom if I was naked in the Point of View department with a flare gun. Yet, my husband and I just finished our taxes, and according to the government we're rich. I can afford the same designer tags and anti-wrinkle cremes the rest of Kemper's snobby customers are buying — I prefer being real."

• Lois, in Oak Harbor, spoke for those readers who find shoppers in Bellevue unfriendly:

"I don't get to Bel-Square often anymore. The last time I stopped there I was on a mission to find a specific item. When my husband and I were driving away, I had a vaguely uncomfortable feeling that seemed familiar. When I identified the feeling, it was like a revelation. It had nothing to do with chicness. It was rudeness!! The same rudeness I have encountered before at Bel-Square."

Some readers saw more than rudeness in Freeman's words.

• From the Eastside, Alan wrote that there was perhaps a connection between Freeman's comment and his stands on public transportation:

"Kemper Freeman is also the long-time supporter of the automobile as the only true method of transportation. For a number of years, I traveled often to Atlanta on business. I mostly stayed in the Peachtree/Lennox (tony) area of Atlanta.

"At the heart of this upscale neighborhood is the Lennox Mall, once renowned for its true upscale feel.

"What changed all that, to the perception that it has become a 'Southcenter'? Simple, many would argue. In the midst of the Atlanta boom and run-up to the Olympics, the city built MARTA (subway). Its first line ran north-south, linking poor with affluent. As a result, some have argued Lennox Mall has became available to anyone, not just those with an SUV.

"Is this the real reason behind Mr. Freeman's vocal opposition to light-rail transit? Could be."

• Another writer, Emerald, said she thought Freeman was putting down a particular group of people and it annoyed her:

"You can call me sensitive if you would like, but the image I came up with in my head after reading Freeman's comment was that of an Asian woman, with rollers in her hair and flip flops. I think there is some racism in his statement, not just biased based on class.

"Walking into Bellevue Square for me, as an Asian-American woman, is like walking into a battlefield. Not a physical one but a mental one. I have to play a little game and make sure that I don't talk too fast, or too slow, too loud, too soft, don't ask for too much, or the stereotypes would all come back in my face. If anything, Bellevue Square is a mall where I can't just go to shop.

"I didn't like Bellevue Square before for its air of snobbiness, and I sure don't like it now. I hope (Freeman) realizes that (what) he said was wrong, but somehow I doubt that will happen. People like him are stuck in their own bubble that can't be popped."

Emerald suggested sending Freeman to Iraq to do penance, but I think shopping at Southcenter wearing curlers and flip-flops would be enough.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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