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MainPlace: The Selling Job Isn't Over : The Reborn Mall's Developers Are Happy, but Some Tenants Are Disappointed

July 03, 1988|MARY ANN GALANTE | Times Staff Writer

If MainPlace/Santa Ana were a movie, Siskel and Ebert would disagree.

Since its premiere nine months ago, the renovated mall has been getting mixed reviews.

Mall executives and anchor tenants say the regional center is doing very well. But some of its merchants are far from being fans.

A number of retailers at MainPlace complain about lack of business, inadequate promotion, high costs and the mall's difficulty establishing its image. And while most are quick to point out that it typically takes two years for a new mall to become well-established, some merchants are already having their doubts.

"If I had to live on MainPlace, I'd be going hungry," said Don Modica, general manager of Anthony's Shoe Service, which has four other stores in Orange County.

"Whatever kind of advertising they're doing, it's not enough," chimed Brad Mori, manager of J. Herbert Hall Jewellers at MainPlace. "A lot of people don't even realize this mall exists."

That type of sentiment was not unusual among the 18 retailers--out of the mall's 134 current merchants--that were contacted recently by The Times. Of the randomly chosen sample, 14 said that they were disappointed in sales and not meeting projections or indicated that they believe that the mall itself could do better.

Despite evidence of dissatisfied tenants, officials and developers of the newly renovated MainPlace say the mall's outlook is bright.

"The center is doing extremely well," said Stan Eichelbaum, senior vice president of marketing for Cincinnati-based JMB/Federated, codeveloper of MainPlace. "I imagine you could find a few tenants who aren't successful, (but) business is lethargic across the country.

"MainPlace is certainly keeping pace with anything in the country right now."

Industry observers agree that MainPlace appears to be busy. And some shakeout is inevitable in any new mall as retailers find themselves catering to an untested clientele, an industry expert said. "It's a fact of life. Some merchants will be unhappy," he said. "They either change themselves or they sell out to somebody who will."

MainPlace now is 78% occupied with 90% of its space now leased--a fairly good showing for a new mall. Sources close to MainPlace said the mall's sales climbed to about $24 million during its first three months in business.

According to Eichelbaum, that has resulted in sales at the center averaging more than a healthy $225 per square foot (excluding anchor tenants). Merchants were told by the mall that fourth-quarter sales for 1987 averaged $260-$267 per-square-foot, then dropped to $229.14 per-square-foot in the first quarter of this year.

By comparison, South Coast Plaza's sales averaged $370 per square foot. Brea Mall reached $237 per square foot last year and the Mall of Orange hit $238. Buena Park recorded slightly over $200 per square foot and Anaheim Plaza posted 1987 sales of $140 per square foot.

But competitors and some industry experts question MainPlace's numbers because the $225 figure is an annualized number based on a projection of how the mall would have done had it opened in January, 1987--nine months before shoppers actually set foot in its stores.

"It's really a projection," said a competitor who asked not to be named. The mall "won't know and can't prove those numbers until the end of the third quarter," when MainPlace has been open a full year.

The proof may not be there, but there is no disputing that at least Nordstrom and Bullock's--two of the mall's three anchor tenants--seem to be doing blockbuster business.

The Nordstrom store in Santa Ana "has been exceeding projections from the beginning. It's a very strong store for us," said Betsy Sanders, vice president and general manager of the Seattle-based chain. In fact, the MainPlace Nordstrom has siphoned business from South Coast Plaza, the chain's flagship store just seven miles away.

And Bullock's "has been in the top five of the Bullock's chain" of 22 stores since Feb. 1, said Jack McCarley, a spokesman for the chain.

The stores' apparent success largely stems from MainPlace's $90-million renovation, part of a massive project that took more than 12 years of planning before it finally was completed last fall.

Before that, MainPlace was called Fashion Square.

When it opened in 1958, Fashion Square was the South Coast Plaza of its day. As the second shopping center built in Orange County, "it was the premiere mall. Nothing had ever been built like it with the trees and the landscaping," recalled Sanford Ring, owner of Main Place Optometry, which has been a mall tenant for 25 years.

But as the county grew, retail competition became more fierce at the same time that population growth and money was shifting to south Orange County. In recent years, the center's image slipped severely at the small, 35-store mall with just two anchors--Bullock's and I. Magnin.

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