"It's happenin' now at Penn Can Mall!"

David Hepp Interview
May 2006

David was an employee of Penn Can Mall from 1989 to 2001 (click here to read an article about him from the Syracuse Post Standard in November of 2000). He was there during some of The Mall's busiest years and also during it's decline and eventual closing. This interview with David was done via e-mail thru his son, Mike, so most answers are from Mike's point of view. I'd like to thank them both for taking the time to do this interview and for sharing some of their memories. If you'd like to check out some of the photos of The Mall that Mike has sent in go to the "Classic Photos & Video Captures" section on the front page of the site.

HAM: What were the different jobs and responsibilities your father had at Penn Can?

MIKE: When the mall was open this would be pretty much my Father's Day: Usually my father would start out by policing the grounds and emptying refuse out of the large barrels. Grounds keeping would be a responsibility during the summer months and snow removal during the winter months. Carpentry was my Father's expertise. He also had some knowledge in the electrical and plumbing systems. There would also be some custodial responsibilities when they were short staffed. So basically, my father would be seen with the tool belt.

HAM: What were the names of all of the different employers that your father had while at Penn Can and what years did he work for each one?

MIKE: Eagan Real Estate (Sep. 1989-Dec. 1989)
Circle Reality ( Dec. 1989- Fall 1990)
Wilmorite ( Fall 1990- 1998)
Jones Lang Lasalle/Equitable (1998- Nov. 2000)
Burdick Companies ( Nov. 2000- Feb. 2001)

HAM: What are some of your best memories of working in the mall?

DAVID: Some of the best memories were mostly spending time there around the holidays when there were times when I would be asked to work in the evenings. Playing St. Nick for the children, meeting all sorts of people. Everyday was an adventure! One more thing to add looking forward to see what some of the female mall employees were wearing everyday!

HAM: Worst memories?

MIKE: One of the most dreadful memories my father remembers is getting a phone call at 2AM for fires, pipe bursts, or if the fire alarm system was activated for no reason. Also the day the roof collapsed. Lastly the day his eleven year legacy ended when his job was eliminated!  

HAM: Any funny stories your father would like to share about his time spent at Penn Can?

MIKE: There are too many stories to tell but, for example my father was with some company executives, when a gorgeous looking woman came towards center court. My father saw all three of them look towards her at the same time as if their necks were all on swivel sticks.

HAM: Did your father play the role of Santa Claus every year? If so, any good stories from "behind the beard"?

MIKE: My father played the role of "Saint Nick" for three years (1990-1993). There was one time when a lady came in with her pet baby pig. She requested for my father to have a picture taken with it on his lap.

HAM: Where did your father get all of those great classic photos that you've sent in to the site?

MIKE: When Wilmorite was preparing for the closure of the mall, the manager was cleaning out the back storage room of the mall office. I happen to be with my father that day and this album was laying in the trash pile. "I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY WERE GOING TO THROW THIS AWAY," I said. And it has been an album full of stories ever since.

HAM: What's the stupidest thing your father has seen someone do at Penn Can?

MIKE: The stupidest thing my father witnessed was not by a customer, but an employee. Near the area where the roof collapsed they had a garage where they kept the road salt for the winter. This maintenance worker, who my father described as dumb as a box of rocks, was loading salt off a truck using a bobcat; was told by the immediate supervisor to have the salt dumped off in front of the garage and be loaded by hand. He used the bobcat instead and overhead in the garage was a 3 " sprinkler pipe in which he busted with the bobcat loader. "What an idiot," my father said.

HAM: Did your father have a lot of problems with teenagers hanging out at The Mall? If so, any good examples?

MIKE: The one thing that teenagers did in the mall, that my father thought was dangerous, was they would slide down the banister of the escalator. Also, at times, my father felt like he was running a babysitting service.

HAM: Any good stories about the Blizzard of 93?

MIKE: One major topic on the blizzard of 93' was when the roof collapsed. My father pretty much knew what was going on when he found many factors that contributed to the roof caving in. For example, minutes before their collapse he saw bowed recessed ceilings, like I mentioned in the photos he found a sprinkler head sticking about 6" below a sheet rock ceiling. At this point, my father knew what was happening. He coordinated the entire evacuation, along with help from his supervisor. Everyone got out safely! My father told me that it was the most amazing thing he has ever seen. Picture this: Sparks flying out of a snow bank and severed pipes with water spraying in different directions, and the smell of smoke coming from the movie theatres due to pulled wires. "Pretty Scary, huh?!"

HAM: Was there an official date that The Mall closed?

MIKE: No "Official" date but, this happened sometime in 1996.

HAM: What were your father's job duties during the years that The Mall was closed?

MIKE: At this point, his title was considered Site Supervisor. There were really no responsibilities in the building other than to keep it heated during the winter because of water pipes. Mostly landscaping and trash pick up, and at this time he would get frequent visitors from local businesses interested in anything that was left over from the stores. For example: shelf units, display cases, light fixtures, etc. I could go on with this list.

HAM: How were so many people able to get in and vandalize The Mall after it had closed?

MIKE: There were only a few ways that vandals were able to enter the mall. The most popular way was through the emergency stair towers that were located around the mall. If you were wondering what the tall white things are around the building. Most of them had double doors in which it was very easy to pry them open. Most of them gave access into the building on the second floor. A couple of them gave way access to the roof. Other wise, it was a simple as prying off the ply wood covering the main entrances or breaking a glass window through a door way.

HAM: What were some of the things that vandals had done to The Mall?

MIKE: They did anything they would normally do to any vacant spot. For example: Break windows, a graffiti artist would make an appearance, also they would take stuff out of the stores and smash it. The funniest thing that me and my father saw, that vandals did, was they moved two mannequins out into the hallway and put them into a sexual position.

HAM: Do you know what happened to all of the different plans for The Mall that we kept hearing about in the 1990s changing it into a strip mall, leasing the stores month to month, etc.?

MIKE: Nothing ever came about the strip mall/discount center but, during the duration when Jones Lang Lasalle had leasing responsibilities. They rented a space out to Installation Unlimited for storage and a man stored his boat in one of the garages.

HAM: What did Burdick tell your father when they first bought the property?

MIKE: They informed my father that he would be given the same responsibilities as compared to when the mall was open. Gave him a raise, a title, and then gave him the boot.

HAM: What eventually happened with your father's job after Burdick took over? 

MIKE: The day his job was eliminated they informed him that there wouldn't be any maintenance responsibilities for awhile until the new building was constructed.

HAM: Is there anything your father would like everyone to know about Penn Can Mall and his years of working at a place that meant so much to so many people?

MIKE: The one thing that my father wanted to mention, this is pertaining to malls built in the 1970's. They were designed with a marketing strategy in mind. If you were to stand in front of Hill's and look down towards center court that's how far you were able to see. Otherwise to find out what was on the other end of the mall you had to walk all the way down to the other end while passing center court. Along the way a customer would find another store of interest. This was a popular marketing strategy in which they used to construct this mall. PENN CAN MALL FOREVER!!!

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Email: theaudacityny@lycos.com