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MainPlace Seeking Middle Ground

November 06, 1987|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | For The Times

The mood of MainPlace/Santa Ana--the newest star of the Orange County mall scene--is decidedly up. Upbeat. Upscale. Updated. From its Gymboree children's shop to Hold Everything ("a paradise for neatniks"), there is not a stodgy corner to be found.

Developers J.M.B./Federated Realty and the Segerstrom family's Fashion Square Ventures have spun a web of shimmering glass and turquoise gridwork encompassing 1,188,000 square feet of shops, food booths and produce stalls. When completed, the mall will offer 173 stores, 15 fast-food booths, a farmer's market and a full-service Mexican restaurant. Now open are three department stores, 106 specialty shops, a Roger's Gardens shop and a six-theater AMC Cinema.

While South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa conjures up images of crystal and caviar, MainPlace is kickier, more contemporary and seems to attract a more ethnically diverse, middle-income crowd. A very sophisticated middle-income crowd, however.

The three-level galleria-type design by the Jerde Partnership of Los Angeles is a knockout. Built in a crescent and anchored by Robinson's, Bullock's and Nordstrom, the mall has the airy feeling of an old-fashioned marketplace of street stalls and malt shops. The fabulous signs depict products of early rural America, and giant photos of Depression-era dry-goods stores and dairy markets hide stores in which construction is still under way.

But the good old days were never like this. Art deco objets d'art hang from one ceiling, while a ceramic tile fountain gurgles nearby. Outside, Nordstrom sits like a jewel in the center of a salmon and turquoise geometric entrance. The glistening green angles and a futuristic clock add to the Oz-deco look. No, we're not in Kansas anymore.

International food booths (La Salsa for Mexican, Panda Express for Chinese, cafe s'barra for Italian) are the focus of the mall's Festival/MarketPlace. There on the second level, shoppers can graze on tasty and quick bites (Sichuan pork or fresh French fries, for instance) before a movie or between purchases. Overlooking the produce booths and flower bins are tables and chairs where shoppers can nibble under enormous hanging planters while watching browsers below.

Speaking of browsers, MainPlace has been light on customer traffic in the weeks following its official opening Sept. 26. But store clerks report that the last two weeks have seen brisk business and crowded stores.

Despite its nod to early American markets, MainPlace has none of the warmth of Main Street, U.S.A. The building can be noisy--all that steel and glass bounces sound around to a sometimes distracting level. And as beautiful as the glass and gridwork motif is, it's not what you call cozy. Sure, a barbershop quartet played recently and other old-timey promotions are planned, but don't expect to see Grandpa in his porkpie hat or schoolgirls in pinafores. The stores are sophisticated, and so are the shoppers.

Women's dress shops that sound like the executive board of the Junior League (Ann Taylor, Joan Buck, Karen Austin) offer racks of great-looking clothes, with no bargain bins cluttering the ambiance. Some stores beg to be browsed through: Z Gallerie, for instance, has wonderful framed prints and funky decorative items. The Sharper Image has state-of-the-art fitness equipment.

Of the 173 stores planned for the mall, 33 are devoted to women's clothes, 13 to family and children's wear, six sell men's wear and 13 specialize in shoes. Along with stores for gifts, toys, home furnishings, books and food items are a shoe repair shop and a photo developer.

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