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Mini-Malls--the Doughnut Holes of L.A. Neighborhoods

August 05, 1986|DANIEL AKST | Daniel Akst is a Times staff writer.

Arthur B. awoke to find a neighborhood convenience center in the living room of his modest flat in a nondescript quarter of the San Fernando Valley.

He sensed that something had changed when he stumbled into the hallway as usual on that particular morning and was almost struck by a Datsun 280Z. Fortunately, he was wearing his customary red pajamas and stocking cap, which made him highly visible to passing traffic.

"Hey--" he called out to the driver, who sped away in a cloud of music and exhaust.

But before he could seriously wonder how the Datsun had come to drive through his dwelling, he discovered the new mini-mall. It was built right into the far corner of his living room, partly obscuring his view of the dead jacaranda tree outside.

This convenience center is certainly convenient, B. thought, but he was annoyed at the traffic and peeved also that no one had asked his permission to erect such a development in his living room.

Yet, surveying the mini-mall shop fronts, he couldn't help but be impressed, even if the fragrance of pizza was unpleasant so early in the morning.

"No longer must I schlep over to Laurel Canyon Boulevard, a full three blocks away, in order to get my pants pressed," he mused. "Nor will obtaining doughnuts be a problem any longer. And look how easy it will be to purchase a Big Gulp when my thirst needs slaking at 3 a.m."

Darting nervously past the couch to avoid passing cars, B. marched up to the dry cleaner.

"Pardon me, but could you direct me to the proprietor of this shopping center?" he asked.

"It's not a shopping center," said the landlord, who had just walked in to collect the first day's rent. "It's a neighborhood convenience center. They're everywhere now, haven't you noticed?"

"Yes, their ubiquity became apparent to me this morning," B. said. "But why did you build one here? You might have said something, at least."

"Well, you were asleep. But we figured you wouldn't mind. This apartment was clearly underserved by retail outlets. There wasn't a single store in any of the rooms. We saw a market."

"How long can there be a market if everyone has his own neighborhood convenience center?" B. protested. "How many doughnuts can people eat? How much dry cleaning is there in the world?"

"What are you worried about?" the landlord snapped. "Anyway, didn't there used to be a gas station in this spot?"

B. blinked in confusion, trying to recall if there had been a filling station in his living room before the mini-mall.

"Sure, the bays were right here," the mall owner said, gesturing with a fat cigar. "But that doesn't pay. This way we get a nice rent, triple net, and you get convenience. Everybody gains."

B. considered the convenience. He noticed a tanning parlor, a fingernail joint and a place that promised to develop film overnight. B. had never considered the valley particularly glamorous or photogenic, yet it seemed to have a great many places for manicures and film.

"Triple net?" he asked warily.

"Sure, tenant pays maintenance, utilities and taxes. Anyway, these things are all temporary, everybody knows that. After a while they'll be replaced by office buildings. It's just a matter of time."

"Office buildings!?!"

"Sure, but don't worry. There'll be plenty of parking."

B. nodded, trying to seem as if he understood. He looked both ways before crossing the hall, and made a mental note not to leave the bedroom anymore except by car.

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