Buena Park Mall is comfortable, like an old shoe that's just had a shine. It's nothing terribly fancy, but if you like 1950s-style variety stores and a food court full of oddities, this shopping center is worth a visit.
With its angled ceilings, blue tile, multitiered fountains and glass elevator, Buena Park Mall is a spiffy, if not splashy, place to shop. Two levels house 160 stores, including May Co., J. C. Penney and Sears.
The shopping center began with one Sears store in 1960. In 1976, City Freeholds (based in Sydney, Australia) purchased the mall and began renovations that included enclosing the center in 1980 and building a $5-million addition by 1984. Retail square footage is now 1.2 million, making it the fourth-largest shopping center in Orange County.
Marketing director Carol Landis says the mall draws middle-income shoppers from Buena Park and environs, as well as from the myriad tourist attractions in the area: Knott's Berry Farm, Disneyland and Movieland Wax Museum, to name a few.
Some of the mall's best treasures are found in its funky variety and gift stores. Long's Drugs looks like a five-and-dime straight out of the '50s. Cheerfully claptrap, it has racks and racks of inexpensive doodads, from $1 tree ornaments to Oriental-style rugs for $42.99. If you can't find it here, you probably don't need it.
Another fun variety store is J.J. Newberry, which is brimming with good cheap stuff: watches for $1.99, pet supplies and a slew of stocking stuffers. Among the many gift stores are For Better Homes, Doo Dah and Rainbow Gate, all good bets for interesting presents. The mall is also unusually rich in jewelry stores (15) and shoe stores (17).
With its United Artists 8-Plex Cinema and its Aladdin's Castle video game parlor, Buena Park has much to amuse the younger set.
And of interest to both kids and adults is the mall's seductive selection of food booths. The 19 counters and restaurants feature everything from Hawaiian hamburgers to zucchini on a stick. Molly Pitcher Pies sells a cappuccino torte for $1.19 a slice and Swensen's Ice Cream sells frozen chocolate bananas for 95 cents. Among the full-service restaurants are Bob's Big Boy and Stonedale's Cafe. But the most interesting counter is the Busy Bee, featuring a tempting array of Asian, especially Korean, items, ranging from fishburgers to fried won ton.
Sprinkled in between the stores are several services: ERA Realty, Lottery Ticket Sales, On the Go Travel, A Shoeman shoe repair and Sam's Diamond and Watch Repair. Also handy are the stroller and cart rentals.
But while Buena Park is long on variety and service, it is decidedly short on high fashion. As in many north county shopping centers, style takes a back seat to price, and the women's clothing stores feature primarily moderate-priced merchandise seen in stores all over America. The Limited, Lerner Shops, The Wet Seal and Casual Corner are among the 20 stores featuring ladies' clothes. The mall has five men's clothing stores, two children's and 11 that sell clothes for the whole family.
Throughout the holiday season, gingerbread villages created by local schoolchildren are on display. At the end of the season, they will go back to the schools to be devoured. Until then, they are lovely to look at.
What services or kinds of stores would you like to see added to your favorite shopping mall? Baby-sitting services, money machines, foot massages? For a future column exploring shopping center services, please send your ideas to Shopping, Orange County Life, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Please include your phone number so that a reporter may contact you.
BUENA PARK MALL AT A GLANCE
Address: One block east of Knott's Berry Farm on La Palma Avenue. (714) 828-7722.
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Call for holiday hours.
Number of stores: 160, including three department stores.
Department stores: Sears, May Co. and J.C. Penney.
Best place to browse: For Better Homes has a good selection of unusual gifts, including a $299 brass rocking horse and children's garden kits for $12.99. Another good place to browse for presents is Buena Park Florist: Among the flowers and dried arrangements are fetching, life-size twig reindeer for $84.95. Won't mom be surprised?
Best place to take the kids: Unleash them at Aladdin's Castle for video games, or at the U.A. movie theater while you shop.
Good cheap eats: There are some great choices in the food court. Try the Busy Bee barbecue combination plate ($3.20) and ginseng tea. Or pick up the fried won ton package for a party ($59 for 180 pieces).
Services: Shopping cart and stroller rentals, $1. The mall is on the route of the FunBus, which shuttles visitors between tourist attractions. No wheelchairs available. No on-site baby-sitting. No valet parking.