Looking for clothes, jewelry, a new stereo, even a new car? They're available at any number of South Bay shopping malls.
So are classes that teach how to live through an earthquake or keep stress from ruining your life, or that provide tips on setting up a crime prevention group in your neighborhood.
"Shopping centers have become the town squares," said Sharron King, marketing director at Hawthorne Plaza, adding that people go to malls not only to shop but to find answers to some of their personal needs. "Service centers have evolved because there's a need for them."
Health information and classes are offered at the Courtyard mall in Rolling Hills Estates and at Hawthorne Plaza. Police crime prevention centers are located at Hawthorne Plaza and at the Carson Mall. And Peninsula Center in Rolling Hills Estates has a senior citizens center run by the Peninsula Seniors.
The newest service group to set up shop in a South Bay mall is the American Red Cross, which on Monday will open what it says is its first mall service center. It will be at the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, on the first floor of the mall concourse between The Broadway and J.C. Penney.
"We're setting a precedent for the Red Cross and we're very excited," said Sally Johnson, manager of the South Bay District of the Red Cross.
She said Del Amo was chosen because it is a highly visible and busy mall in the middle of the district's service area, which stretches from El Segundo to San Pedro. The center will offer a variety of classes, including first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and baby-sitting, as well as services to military people and their families.
"There's no one in the South Bay who's not a potential customer for this office," said center manager Paul Myers. "A million people have to drive less than seven miles to have what we have to offer."
Brandace Berger, a Del Amo vice president, called the Red Cross center an experiment that the mall is happy to be a part of. "We want to be of service to the community if we can," she said.
The center will operate on a month-to-month, rent-free agreement. Both the mall and the Red Cross say the center's longevity depends on its success. "They don't know if it's going to work, and we don't, either," Berger said.
Johnson said the Red Cross will evaluate the effectiveness of the center in a year. She said she expects other Red Cross groups to take an interest in what is happening at Del Amo, "especially if it is a successful operation."
After four years at the Courtyard mall, the people who run the health education center called A Measure of Wellness have no doubt about their success.
Nearly 17,000 people either visited the center for classes or information or telephoned for services during 1985, according to Nancy Stuerke, a vice president of San Pedro Peninsula Hospital, which operates the center.
She said A Measure of Wellness grew out of the hospital's historic interest in health education. "We decided it was real important to stress health promotion and wellness, so people would recognize problems and take care of them early before they got out of hand," she said.
Opened in 1981 at a closed school in Rancho Palos Verdes, the center was moved to the Courtyard when it opened a year later because the mall drew more people and had more parking.
Feeling Great, the health education center that Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center operates at Hawthorne Plaza, is just over a year old. But it, too, has established itself and serves about 1,000 people a month.
Director Suzan Vida said convenience and accessibility made the mall a natural location for the center. "When you put something in a shopping mall, people take advantage of it," she said. "When they have to seek it out, they won't."
Fingerprinting, brochures on such things as drugs and child safety, bicycle registration, and help in starting and maintaining Neighborhood Watch groups are the stock in trade of service centers operated by the Hawthorne Police Department at Hawthorne Plaza and by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department at the Carson Mall.
While public convenience is a key reason they are in malls, police say there is an equally important factor: They are on neutral ground, away from police stations.
"A lot of people were intimidated by going into the main Police Department building," said Hawthorne Capt. Steve Port. "The mall storefront is less offensive and gets more walk-in traffic."
Whether they deal in health or crime prevention, service centers and the malls that play host to them share many traits.
Typically, the agencies or hospitals pay little or no rent, covering only the costs of utilities and maintenance. But they sometimes perform special services for the mall and its employees.
For example, Hawthorne police helped Hawthorne Plaza personnel conduct a special program to fingerprint children. And every year, the police put on a Halloween party for children at the mall.