The Brea Mall recently embarked on an $80-million renovation. And it's a good thing.
The 10-year-old shopping center at the intersection of Imperial Highway and State College Boulevard suffers from a dowdy image. But it does have a good mix of moderately priced shops, four major department stores (the Broadway, May Co., Nordstrom and Sears) and lots of sales.
It may not have the glamour of South Coast Plaza or the pizazz of Main Place/Santa Ana, but here Mom can pick up fleecy baby sleepers for $3.99 or a roll of tape for 50 cents. The whole family can be outfitted without breaking the budget.
Behind its bland decor is a no-nonsense collection of stores geared to middle-income shoppers of northern Orange County. Landscaping and interior design are minimal--a handful of trees and some skylights give relief to the relentlessly beige interior. Is there a decorator in the house?
Shopping is serious business at Brea Mall. There are no playgrounds or carrousels for the kids, no fountains or ponds to linger near. In fact, there is little to do except shop.
Until recently, shoppers could drop off the kids at the Ice Capades Chalet that was attached to the shopping center, but Brea Mall owners (Corporate Property Investors of New York City) tore down the rink to build more retail space. When the renovation project is completed, a J.W. Robinson store will be added, the Nordstrom store nearly doubled in size, the fast-food area increased and upgraded, and about 75 stores added. The mall has a four-screen United Artists Cinema, but no other recreation or performance facilities will be added.
The face lift will transform the center from a dull, 1-million-square-foot brown and beige building with tobacco-colored beams, faded tiles and industrial carpet into a Spanish mission-style structure with a tile roof, and white marble and bleached wood accents. RTKL Associates Inc., a Dallas architectural firm, also plans extensive landscaping with palm trees and potted plants. Planters and fountains will be sprinkled throughout the mall.
The owners expect the expansion, which will increase the size of the center by 60%, to double annual sales to almost $400 million.
The new mall will "have a bright and airy feel with lighter-colored finishes and store fronts, a more sophisticated and elegant look," according to publicity material.
The enhanced center will still cater to middle-class consumers from the northern Orange County communities surrounding Brea. Marketing director Deirdre Palmer said the mall's typical customer is a white married female with a family income of $44,000. To please these shoppers, the center specializes in the kind of moderately priced chain stores you see in malls all over America: Chess King, Kinderfoto, Thom McAn, Zales jewelry and Lerner Shops.
Back to the bargains. Last week, several of the 16 shoe stores advertised sales. Earthcraft, an offbeat gift store, discounted all of its merchandise the other day during a liquidation sale. And most of the women's and teen shops had a slew of markdowns, including sweaters for $30 at Shop for Pappagallo and beautiful leather children's shoes for $20 at Nordstrom.
A good place to grab lunch or a snack is the food court, where shoppers can chow down on a gourmet hot potato at 1 Potato 2 or a bowl of pasta at California Crisp. The noisy but roomy eating space with more than a dozen fast-food spots also offers freshly baked cookies, lemonade, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and teriyaki lunches.
Yes, Brea Mall begs for excitement. But for bargain hunters, it can be paradise.
BREA MALL AT A GLANCE
Address: 2027 Brea Mall, Brea, at the intersection of Imperial Highway and State College Boulevard, off the Orange Freeway.
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Number of stores: 140 plus four department stores.
Department stores: Nordstrom, Sears, The Broadway, May Co.
Most unusual store: The Knife Gallery, featuring knives, swords and sabers in an astonishing variety of shapes and materials. Here's where you can get grandpa a four-foot-long Portuguese general's sword for $750.
Best place to browse: Elements, for off-beat gifts, unusual cards and funky accessories ($39 for handmade ceramic puppets).
Store with the most interesting clothes: Jay Jacobs for provocative unisex wear ($64 for a denim jump suit).
Store with the most unusual dressing room: Shop for Pappagallo, known for quality women's shoes and clothes, has one dressing room, located in a bathroom with an "out of order" sign on the toilet.
Best cheap eats: Small bowl of spinach and feta pasta ($1.59) at California Crisp; Large teriyaki platter with grilled vegetables, rice and three sticks of grilled meats ($4.25) at Teriyaki House.
Services: No wheelchair or stroller rentals, no on-site baby-sitting, no valet parking, no package check-in.