Grandma With A Cause

In these days of ravaged rain forests, a tattered ozone layer, nuclear weaponry and global overpopulation, the cause that Doris Daniel has taken on may seem, well, a bit quixotic--unless you're an oldster who shops at Park Central Mall.

About two months ago this spunky, raspy-voiced 64-year-old grandmother launched a one-woman petition drive to persuade Park Central to open at six in the morning during the summer. The earlier hours would enable old people to get their shopping done before the morning heat sets in, she says, noting that oldsters who have to get in a car, wait for a bus or walk home in the midmorning heat sometimes get to feeling like their brains will broil out of their skulls.

In two months, Daniel, a former rivet-machine operator and sales clerk, has collected 1,023 signatures. She's perched outside the Phoenix Public Library, combed downtown parking lots, hovered near senior centers and even stood outside St. Joseph's Hospital waiting for the emergency-room staff to change shifts. She says she plans to keep gathering names all winter. She's convinced she'll collect so many names that Park Central officials will have to listen to her.

Park Central officials, for their part, are a bit taken aback by Daniel's fervor. "This is really a first--something I've never encountered before," says Rob Snowden, general manager of the mall. Snowden says he's "very, very doubtful" that Daniel will have much success in getting stores to open early. In the first place, she'd have to prove that all the people who sign her petition shop at Park Central. And in the second place, she'd have to convince the Mall's anchor tenants--Robinson's, J.C. Penney and Dillard's--to open early. Then, and only then, would the 75 other shops consider following suit, he says.

None of this deters the zeal of Grandma Daniel, who started her petition drive when a friend "nearly croaked" after walking home from a Park Central shopping spree. The friend, who lived in the same government-subsidized downtown apartment building where Daniel lives, collapsed in the lobby. "I said Ethel, and I had tears in my eyes when I said it, `I'm going to do something about this or I'm going to die,'" she recalls.

Her friends told her she was nuts to even try promoting such a cause, because no one cares about seniors. That just strengthened her resolve, she says: "The more people told me it couldn't be done and that I was wasting my time, well, that just made me angrier. After all, this is the hottest state in the country.