Johanna Walker was concerned that she wouldn't complete her business before her daughter's lunch break was over. So she was happy when the man from the Sheriff's Department took her right in.
"My daughter needs to get back to work," Johanna said.
"This won't take long," sheriff's aide Mark Van Ness assured her as she sat down in a small cubicle inside the Burlington County Corner Store at the Moorestown Mall.
In less than 10 minutes, Johanna, 81, had what she wanted - a Burlington County Senior Citizens Identification Card. It contained her photo, address, vital statistics, and emergency contact information.
"I had a stroke and I can't drive anymore, so I needed this," she said, looking at the computer-produced card. "My daughter doesn't have time to take me all over the place."
All over the place to Johanna, who lives in Maple Shade, and her daughter, Marlise Basso, who lives in Cherry Hill, would have been the state motor-vehicle agency in Cherry Hill to get a new driver's license or to the county complex in Mount Holly for the senior ID card.
The motor-vehicle agency is notorious for its long wait. And to Mount Holly and back during Marlise's lunch hour might have been a bit too much.
So they took care of business at the county store, along the north side of the mall, not far from where Marlise works.
Since opening in the mall in the summer of 2005, the store has thrived, providing passports, notarizing documents, giving out free maps and county information, and sometimes even dispensing advice on wills by the Surrogate's Office.
"The whole idea was convenience for residents," said County Clerk Phil Haines, whose office runs the store. "The success is not a surprise, but it is beyond original expectations."
Haines said he had hoped the store would break even, covering about $170,000 in annual expenses for rent, staff and materials. But in 2006, it took in $270,000, and Haines turned over the difference to the county.
Much of the success comes from passport applications. The store processed more than 7,000 last year.
Doing county business at malls is not new. Gloucester County has a store in the Deptford Mall. Camden County opened a store at the Echelon Mall in 1994 and added one at the Cherry Hill Mall in 2001.
Camden County's stores also often provide vision and blood-pressure screening, adult ID cards, and child fingerprinting. The stores made between $150,000 and $200,000 in profit last year, county spokesman Ron Tomasello said.
The concept is to take government services to people. And as the modern Main Streets, malls are great places to do that. Often, the county stores follow mall hours, adding the benefit of evening and weekend hours.
Marlise Basso didn't know the Moorestown Mall store existed until recently. She was across the hall in a nail salon when she noticed it.
"I wanted my mother to have the identification, and this certainly beats waiting at Motor Vehicles," she said
The ID cards are free to any county resident older than 60. The Sheriff's Department sets up shop at the store one day a month (usually the last Friday).
From 1 to 3 p.m. the next two Tuesdays, the Moorestown store will offer free flu shots, regardless of age.
I plan on getting a flu shot on one of those dates. Maybe I'll bump into you there. Maybe you'll share an idea for a column with me.