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Risque Business: Frederick's Drops Downtown

July 11, 1986|TOWNSEND DAVIS | Times Staff Writer

If you need a last-minute party purchase--shimmy dress, sequin blouse or G-string decorated with a bear face--you can no longer rely on the downtown Frederick's of Hollywood.

The store on 5th Avenue closed Thursday after 18 years, and the company has decided to move out of downtown.

The store's management said it had been getting fewer customers and that it decided to close the outlet when the lease ran out. Its demise is typical of the downtown squeeze on some longtime tenants. With Frederick's gone, only two of seven storefronts on its side of the block between C Street and Broadway are occupied.

Frederick's is a national lingerie chain with 140 stores in 33 states that grosses $50 million a year and boasts a large mail-order business.

"It's a bummer, I'm really depressed," said Cynthia Hammond, a part-time singer who has shopped regularly at Frederick's since 1969 for outrageous party dresses, costumes and undergarments. "It's heartbreaking. This place is memories."

Hammond said she'll have to go elsewhere to get gussied up for Halloween and New Year's Eve.

"The plaza is nice," she said, waving at Horton Plaza two blocks away. "But the shopping centers are taking away the individuality of the small boutiques. Frederick's was here to make women feel glamorous. Now we have to go the shopping centers and follow everyone else like a flock of sheep."

Eileen Bell of Hillcrest was hesitant about shopping at Frederick's a few years ago because of its reputation for risque products. The edible strawberry body gels, scant teddies and panties equipped with a music box that played "Happy Birthday," "When the Saints Go Marching In" or "Love Me Tender" were among the store's more distinctive items.

But when shoppers like Bell ventured inside, they found original outfits, marked down and in hard-to-get sizes.

"You assume that Frederick's has just the Hollywood garments," she said. "But I got some good buys here, some that I take with me on every trip. You need dress-up clothes for ships, and Frederick's is very good for cruise clothes."

"I imagine a lot of people are going to miss this little store," said Bell. "When you got used to it, it was a nice little shopping corner."

Lisa Nera came at lunch each day for six years to look for items for her teen-age daughter. "Maybe I'll go to National City," Nera said. Frederick's fans will now have to travel to other outlets at South Bay Plaza, National City or the Mission Valley store scheduled to open next month.

Don Hertel, director of The Friendly Follies lip sync troupe, was in the store Thursday looking for outfits for his 30 performers for the last time. "We found some of our best costumes here," he said. "We're kind of sad that it's closing."

Lina Christie, assistant manager at Frederick's for five years, moved boxes and racks out of the mustard-colored store Thursday. A rattling three-speed fan blended with Carole King on an old RCA radio: "Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?"

"When I was in high school, Frederick's was here and I came in here all the time to look, not to buy," she said. "I wasn't that type then. I am now."

More than a novelty shop, the downtown Frederick's store was a cutting-edge fashion outlet that supplied hordes of Madonna clones with lace gauntlets, corsets and garters, Christie said.

"The push-up bra is one thing that Frederick's is famous for," she said. "Some of our stuff is really sexy, but now you see some of the department stores carrying stuff that Frederick's had first."

And the store served the customer spectrum: "Hookers, transvestites, doctors, lawyers, police" is Christie's off-the-cuff list of regulars.

"We had all types of clientele, from La Jolla to Tijuana," she said, dodging mannequins and trying to find a place for the African violet a customer gave her three years ago for Mother's Day.

She said one doctor from Germany came through every year on his way to Hawaii and bought $400 worth of bras on his charge card. "He loved our things," Christie said, "and he was insulted when I asked for an ID."

Many came to the store just for companionship, turning Frederick's into a corner pop psychology shop.

"A lot of old-timers come in just to talk because no one else wants to listen to them," Christie said. "When you are in a place long enough, you get to know the people who hang around. We have our own bums out there that we say good morning to. We're going to miss the downtown crowd."

However embarrassed some customers might have been, they said they will miss the downtown convenience of Frederick's.

"When you say Frederick's, people think of nasty and sex, but it's not really," sales clerk Patricia Lineham said. "That's what people make it in their minds. What I tell people who come in here and say it's sleazy is, 'If it's sleazy, why are you in here buying?' "

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