Less than six months after officials publicly insisted that customers would willingly walk or drive their own cars between South Coast Plaza and its new Crystal Court annex across Bear Street, the mall is adding a free tram service in an effort to increase business.
Since its grand opening last October, the $80-million Crystal Court addition has suffered from sparse customer traffic because of problems coaxing customers to cross the busy boulevard that separates the annex from its profitable neighbor, South Coast Plaza.
While mall officials publicly pooh-poohed the idea that shoppers weren't about to change their traffic patterns and
trek across four lanes of traffic, smaller retailers at Crystal Court have privately complained for months about slow business and empty stores.
"It's a fact. There isn't as much as a fraction of the traffic here" as at South Coast Plaza, said a merchant Friday who asked not to be named. "People are hurting and the reason is . . . customers generally will shop at one (side of the mall) or the other," but not both, he said.
But mall officials hope all that will change with the two-unit tram running daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The blue and white shuttle with fringe on top can carry up to 75 shoppers as it makes a loop every eight minutes from Crystal Court's Robinson's and the Broadway to South Coast Plaza's Nordstrom and Bullock's.
Crystal Court's general manager, Jack Matthess, said Thursday that he has been considering ways to link both sides of the mall for nine months. "I made a survey, and the customers dictated . . . they wanted to be catered to, picked up and delivered," Matthess said.
Center officials initially had considered a multimillion-dollar pedestrian walkway but abandoned the idea as too costly.
The $55,000-$60,000 price tag for the used shuttle bus is being picked up by Crystal Court merchants and the three managing partners of Crystal Court. The three partners, a Crystal Court merchants' fund and the two anchor stores--Broadway and Robinson's--also will pay the $7,000 or so needed to run the shuttle each month.
While Matthess said Crystal Court's business generally has been good, he acknowledged Thursday that one reason for the shuttle is to increase traffic at the annex. Linda Frost, Crystal Court's marketing director, said the shuttle was inaugurated mostly as "an extension of our customer service"--and not because business has been down.
Whatever the reason, retailers clearly are pleased.