A few frantic moments of panic Wednesday afternoon at Arden Fair mall likely kept thousands of post-Christmas Day shopping dollars from reaching dozens of mall merchants.
Just how large the fiscal impact was, officials and store managers at the 1.1 million-square-foot, 165-plus tenant mall were unwilling to estimate on Thursday.
Analysts speculated that even the comparatively short lockdown of stores at Arden Fair following a false report of gunshots likely added up to a significant sum due to lost shopping time and customers who headed for the exits.
"Well, with that many stores, just doing the math, it was probably in the many thousands of dollars," said Peter Schaub, a marketing and branding expert in New York. "It's probably impossible to get a reliable figure, because who knows how many shoppers just went home when order was restored?"
The frightening scene was ignited by a group of young people running through the mall creating a disturbance. There were no shots, but fighting broke out and three arrests were made.
Police said Dremon O'Deal, 19, and Louis Santiago, 18, were booked on charges of fighting in public. A 15-year-old whose identity was not released because of his age also was booked on fighting charges.
Schaub said that to limit damage from the incident, Arden Fair needs to make shoppers feel safe.
The best solution in the short term, he said, is to "step up security make yourself seen to those who might make trouble."
That has already happened.
A beefed-up police presence was instituted at Arden Fair on Thursday and will likely remain in place through the New Year's Day holiday.
Steve Reed, mall security chief, said the increased security includes more visible patrols by Sacramento police officers and the hiring of more off-duty police officers.
Reed said officers will be visible to shoppers throughout the sprawling shopping complex.
He said officers "will be on the lookout for anyone acting up."
Shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, police said a fight among teenagers in the mall's food court area was witnessed by numerous shoppers.
Reed said security personnel waded into the confrontation within seconds.
During the scuffle, Reed said, a sign fell over and made a loud "bang" sound.
"Somebody said 'gun,' and things just went spinning from there," Reed said. "There was no gun, no shots, but in light of recent events, I think it just went spinning at that point."
Reed estimated that about 4,000 people were in the mall at the time of the incident "and people at the other end of the mall didn't even know something was happening."
Less than an hour after the incident, the mall was again open for business, although witnesses said crowds had subsided considerably.
Reed said "several things went wrong here and with school being out and young people being out, that probably didn't help. As for the fight, we were there in 30 seconds, because we already had reports of (people) being loud and boisterous. My guys were right on the scene."
Reed said he hoped the increased security presence will negate any concerns shoppers might have.
Like Reed, Schaub speculated that the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn., appear to have heightened fears among consumers in general enough that even an unsubstantiated report of gunshots would send people running for safety.
Asked if raw nerves and Wednesday's incident might affect Arden Fair businesses in the future, Schaub said: "I don't think it's this one mall or any one place. I think it's just the times how very sensitive people are right now about the thought of gunshots in a public place.
"I saw some of that here (in New York) after 9/11. It takes time for nerves to heal and emotions to settle down. If (Arden Fair) has stepped up security in a visible way, I think that will go a long way toward reassuring shoppers ."
Reed noted that Arden Fair merchants have had formal training sessions on emergency procedures and appeared to follow those perfectly on Wednesday.
"The idea is to lock down the store and go to a back room to be safe," he said. "We'll take this incident, and it will be used as a basis for further training."