SPARTA-It may not be the ideal location, but young love, friendships, and memories are forged among the cars in the Theatre Plaza, in Sparta. The Plaza, which houses a CVS pharmacy, Frank's Pizzeria, and a variety of other stores, is the epicenter of social life if you're a young teen living in Sparta. Although some consider this scene a slice of Americana, others find the youngsters annoying, and even threatening. "To some patrons, the groups outside of the stores and restaurants are intimidating. It's not right that people can't get through the entrance without being inconvenienced," said Sergeant Russell Smith, of the Sparta Police Department during an interview for an article published in this paper in January. Despite the discomfort among some Sparta adults, who may feel intimidated by the large groups of teens who crowd around the entrances or inside, the kids insist that there is no reason for it. When the article is mentioned to High School Freshmen Tyler Fiess, 15, and his friends, he expressed his feelings without hesitation; "that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard." The way they see it, adults have the wrong idea. "I think they think it's dangerous and that there are druggies and stuff," commented Daria, who on Friday was spending some time with her friends, Melanie and Melissa. Some of the other teens who make the parking lot of the Theatre Plaza their social hangout spot agree. "It's probably because there are like 50 million of us and one of them," said sarcastically 12-year-old John, who goes by the name of Fig. "My mom feels the same way," said Melissa. The issue is one of comfort and economics. Back in January, some of the local business owners declined, or would only comment under the condition that their name not be used because they recognize that the teens and their parents represent income for the local establishments. The youngsters come to the Plaza to see a movie, bowl, or dine at Frank's. Once that's over, the teens walk around or stop by CVS until what they consider the reasonable time to go home comes around. "It's just too early to go home at like eight," explained Daria. For the teens, socializing in the Plaza's parking lot is the only option available. "They took out the Teen Center at Mohawk Avenue, and that was uncool," said Fig. "We should drain Lake Mohawk and build an amusement park with roller coasters!" Tyler quickly answered when asked what sort of places Sparta Township should provide to entertain its teen and pre-teen residents; his friends, Holden Jenkins, 14, and Sean Moore, 15, agreed. An amusement park may seem a little extreme, but for these boys, who had come into the CVS Pharmacy seeking shelter from the harsh 30-degree weather last Friday night, just the thought of such a thing was amusing enough. There were many ideas for improvement, though; Melissa suggested that a 60s parlor be built, Daria thought that a lounge would be cool, and sixth- and seventh-graders Lindsay, Kristina, Alex, Liss, Jake, Veronica, Mike, and Dave, who were making their own fun by the side door of the movie theater, proposed an arcade or a mall. While some Sparta adults patronize the area's restaurants or socialize at the local Country Club, Sparta's teen-aged residents continue to map the center of their social lives at the Theatre Plaza -- at least for the weekend. In the end, when asked whether adults should feel the reported uneasiness, Fig and his friends; Kate, Phil, Max, and Katie, shook their heads in broken unison, "Nah
we're just hanging out."