HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- Ring-a-ling. Hear them ring?
Then you must be at Valley Mall in Hagerstown, where the Salvation Army was asked to mute its famous bells. Instead, they've replaced the brass clappers with large metal paper clips to appease merchants who complained the bell ringers were too loud. Instead of chiming brightly, these bells emit meek little clinks.
"The mall suggested we put a paper clip or something lighter in there so it's not the constant clanging," said Maj. Robert Lyle, the local commander who ordered the switch.
The clappers were quelled in the three bells used indoors at the western Maryland mall but not in the two outside, Lyle said.
Mall Marketing Director Brian Kaltenbaugh said complaints came mainly from kiosk- and cart-based businesses in concourses near the ringers. But workers at the kiosks closest to hardworking bell-ringer Shirley Sheffield said they weren't bothered.
"Honestly, the kids screaming over there are a bigger distraction," said Day By Day Calendar clerk Karen Rice, nodding toward a children's play area.
"I have customers who'll stand here and say, 'Doesn't that bell get on your nerves?' and I'll say, 'What bell?'"
Salvation Army national spokeswoman Melissa Temme said she doesn't know whether or how the organization's bells have been muted elsewhere. Target Corp. has banned ringers at its stores since 2004, citing a longstanding no-solicitation policy.
Bells are hardly new to shoppers. The tradition of collecting Christmastime donations in a kettle began in 1891 in San Francisco, according to the group's Web site. The Hagerstown ringers are stationed just outside national chains anchoring the mall, which is owned by Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust.
Mall spokesman Kaltenbaugh said muting the bells makes sense financially.
"From the merchants' standpoint, we're here to do business. So I think the decision was made from the Salvation Army's part to kind of strike a compromise so we still have the presence of the Salvation Army," he said.
Lyle acknowledged the bells can grow tiresome and it was more important that merchants let the organization collect much-needed money outside their stores.
Mall shoppers on Wednesday had no complaints.
"They don't bother me," said Bob Bell, 62, a retired mail carrier. "I think it brings more attention and people if they're louder. The Salvation Army is a good outfit and they need all the attention they can get."
On the Net:
The Salvation Army: http://www.salvationarmyusa.org
Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust: http://www.preit.com
(This version CORRECTS Corrects style on paper clip in headline)