Mission Viejo Mall--with its wide variety of stores and four anchors--is a good, solid place to shop. You may not want to go on an empty stomach, however.
While many malls are adding food courts, indoor/outdoor cafes and snack counters to boost their appeal and enhance the shopping experience, Mission Viejo Mall appears to have forgotten a major component of consumerism--the appetite.
Of the 130 shops and restaurants, which include Robinson's, Bullock's, May Co. and Montgomery Ward, only 10 offer snacks or quick meals, with two of those featuring hot dogs. The rest offer such run-of-the-mill munchies as pretzels, orange juice, pizza, egg rolls and tacos.
But for serious shoppers with small appetites, this mall may hit the spot, particularly in the area of gifts and home furnishings. It also has a good mix of shoe stores, women's clothing shops and menswear stores.
Of the nine stores featuring gifts and home furnishings, several stand out. Home Basics, which last week was selling all of its merchandise at 20% off, has great things that no one should have to live without: brightly colored drawer organizers ($4.95), large magnetic kitchen caddies for refrigerator doors ($5.95) and colorful backpacks by Eastpak ($22.95). Ducks and Daffodils sells tiny "dining lites" candles for $12.50 for a set of four and miniature ceramic picture frames for $4. But the most unusual home furnishings store is Dekor International, featuring giant ceramic sculptures, one of which depicts Michelangelo carving Moses ($1,395). The store also sells Wildwood brass lamps for $645 and solid oak and burl grandfather clocks for $3,295.
Another good place for gifts is Rooten's Luggage, which sells an attache case made out of baby calf for $495 and a Crusade piano phone that really plays for $41.95.
This mall has something for every foot. Among the 17 shoe stores, shoppers can find sport shoes, high-quality ladies' shoes, children's shoes and boots for teen-agers. Women's clothing also gets a fair shake. The majority of the 21 shops specialize in moderate-priced sportswear, but the selection, from Benetton to Lane Bryant, is impressive. There also are seven men's clothing stores, 10 jewelry stores and six shops featuring men's and women's clothes.
The remaining categories come in twos: two toy stores, two children's clothing stores, two bookstores, two music shops, two stereo and computer stores, two card shops and two sporting good stores.
Of the two shops offering one-hour photo service, Photomakers offers the better deal: $8.95 for 24 exposures compared to $10.49 for the same number at Ritz Camera.
Marketing Director Kathy Yorba says the mall's typical shopper is between 35 and 44 years old, with a family income of $50,000 to $75,000, from the Mission Viejo, San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Beach and South Laguna areas.
Mission Viejo Mall created a stir recently when Tony Bennett visited the shopping center over the holidays to promote his artwork, which was for sale in the lobby and which adorned the mall's holiday shopping bags.
"That surprised all of us," Yorba said of his visit. "It wasn't a planned promotion, he just decided he would come out." Yorba said another promotion, called the frequent shopper program, which will reward regular customers with discounts and prizes, will begin in March.
With its red tile roof and stucco walls, the building's handsome exterior looks great against the hilly Saddleback Valley terrain. Once inside, however, the favorable impression fades a bit. The open floor plan and cathedral ceilings are dramatic, but the building's drab decor could use some sprucing up. Beige walls, dark beams and worn carpet make the 8-year-old mall seem older.
A couple of corners seem neglected. One forgotten niche, near Montgomery Ward, reeked of hair chemicals from Regis Hairstylists. Nearby, a forlorn-looking sculpture looks abandoned in front of Video Concepts.
On the bright side, this mall has plenty of distractions for kids. Throughout the shopping center are small amusement rides, along with a video game parlor (Fun 'n' Games) and three Edwards Cinemas.
So if you're in the area and like to shop, bring the kids. But don't forget the box lunch.
MISSION VIEJO MALL AT A GLANCE
Address: 27000 Crown Valley Pkwy., Mission Viejo. (714) 364-1232.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Number of stores, services: 130.
Department stores: Robinson's, May Co., Montgomery Ward, Bullock's.
Retail space: 999,000 square feet.
Most unusual store: Dekor International sells some beautiful merchandise. Somehow, though, four-foot-high statues of famous artists carving biblical characters seem inappropriate next to $3,000 clocks. This oddity aside, Dekor carries a wide selection of furnishings, many in the ornate and gilded category.
Best place to browse: I defy anyone to wander the aisles of Home Basics and not find something he/she can't live without. Aisle after aisle of useful stuff, this store is like an inexpensive version of Hold Everything, the neatnik's equipment store owned by the Williams-Sonoma Co.
Best place to take the kids: There is lots for children to do. Little ones will enjoy the tiny amusement rides (25 and 50 cents), while big kids will head for Fun 'n Games video game parlor. There is also an Edwards Cinema III.
Quick bites: Follow your nose to Phanny's Phudge Emporium for a delicious piece of fudge (50 cents) and a steaming cup of cappuccino ($1).
Services: Stroller and wheelchair rentals; no valet parking, child care or shuttle buses. Information desk has mall directories.