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Backstory: Most Stressful 'Mall Moment'


Published December 28, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

Kids take a ride on the Big Blue Express on March 19. - CAT CUTILLO ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Cat Cutillo ©️ Seven Days
  • Kids take a ride on the Big Blue Express on March 19.

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2022.

I've always been an observer, the kind of person who likes to sit in the corner and watch drama unfold rather than take part in the action. My knack for noticing is a skill that helps me as a reporter. But sometimes my job requires me to ruffle feathers in a way that conflicts with my nature.

When I found out last spring that the University Mall in South Burlington was being sold, I jumped at the chance to write about it, figuring it would be a relatively stress-free assignment. I spent hours inside the sprawling building, jotting notes about the shopping center's sights, sounds and smells; I interviewed store owners, employees and customers about what they thought of the sale. My colleague Cat Cutillo accompanied me to capture photos and video for the story.

At the end of my second day of on-site reporting, I was deep in conversation with Jim Vitanos, owner of trading card and athletic paraphernalia store Jim's Sports, when Cat motioned for me to come into the hallway. There I encountered a uniformed mall cop who, politely but firmly, demanded to know what I was doing. My heart started pounding, and I had the irrational thought that he might try to confiscate my reporter's notebook and Cat's video footage, rendering the story a bust.

I contemplated grabbing Cat's hand and making a run for it but then envisioned the potential headline — "Rogue Reporters Apprehended Outside Applebee's After Foot Chase" — and thought better of it.

Instead, I calmly explained to the mall cop that Cat and I were covering the news of the sale for Seven Days. He told me that I needed to check in with a member of mall management to get formal permission.

It didn't take long to find the person in charge, who gave us the OK to proceed with our work. Crisis averted, I left the building that day with the smell of Auntie Anne's pretzels lingering in my nostrils and this refrain echoing in my brain: Sometimes a little discomfort is necessary to get the story.