By Wally Kennedy

Globe columnist

It's that time of year at Northpark Mall when you see moms with teenagers and kids in tow looking for the latest in back-to-school clothes. They dart into stores, check out the goods, find something they like and move on.

Sometimes you overhear their conversations, which can be mildly amusing.

"No, we are not going into that store,'' the mom says.

"But mom, they have a black sleeveless top in there I really want,'' her teenage daughter says.

"No. Black is for funerals,'' the mom says.

"But mom, everybody will be wearing this. ...''

It's a ritual of late summer. Negotiating with your parents what you will be able to wear when school starts.

But this back-to-school shopping season at the mall will be a little different when compared with last year's. The mall is filled with yellow-and-black signs, and long strips of yellow-and-black caution tape. The mall is one huge construction zone.

There are signs to warn shoppers about uneven floors, overhead work and open trenches. There probably should be signs to warn shoppers about the signs. Mall walkers - you know those people who visit the mall every day to get their exercise in a temperature-controlled environment - now have an obstacle course to negotiate. All the effort must be worth it. The mall hasn't had a mishap, yet.

The mall is getting an $11 million makeover. New lights, new colors, new floor tiles, new ceiling tiles and new textures. You can see the difference best in the J.C. Penney court where the old look is giving way to the bold, new look.

The work is being done at night. When shoppers leave, large tarp-like curtains are unrolled above the mall's storefronts to protect them and the merchandise inside of them from the dust that is being generated by the makeover. Each morning before the mall opens, the curtains are rolled back up to expose the shops. This has posed a bit of a problem in getting the mall opened on time each day, but it is a manageable problem.

Dewayne Patton, manager of the mall, said the makeover is on target for completion on Nov. 1.

As the mall is getting updated, another project involving two of its largest tenants is underway. The Famous Barr stores are phasing in new clothing lines to become Macy's on Sept. 9. That is the date when the new Macy's signage will be unveiled. Expect a red-carpet launch for that.

One last thing about back-to-school shopping. The mall will observe the state's sales-tax holiday on Aug. 4-6. Clothing, back-to-school items and electronics will be exempt from the state sales tax. The mall's catchy slogan: "Raid the racks, there's no state tax!''

Gone, but not forgotten

It was a successful marriage that lasted for 20 years, but the McDonald's restaurant in the mall is no more. It closed last Saturday.

Lori Jones, marketing director for the mall, said, "We truly appreciated our relationship with McDonald's. There is nothing that can replace it.''

Mike Jennings, who runs the local McDonald's restaurants, said the closure was a corporate decision. The company had a 20-year lease with the mall that expired.

"A restaurant store in the mall is considered a non-traditional store or a special point of distribution. There is a sales threshold that has to be met. We have not been able to get to that threshold,'' Jennings said.

"It's a sad moment for us because we had a great relationship with the folks at the mall. We are as sad to go as they are sad to see us go.''

The 14 or so workers at the mall restaurant have been relocated to other restaurants in the Joplin market. The equipment will be moved out this week.

Jones said the mall will be looking for either a new national or local tenant for the food court. What's important to note is that the doors to the mall's food court probably see as much foot traffic as any in Joplin. It's certainly in the Top 10.

If you have news about something that's happening on Range Line, dial 623-3480, Ext. 7250; or send an e-mail to wkennedy@joplinglobe.com; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at 623-8598.