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SHOPPING

The Sweet Sound of Hammers

September 30, 1988|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Every fall, the kids go back to school, gardeners stock up on spring bulbs and, in many of the county's malls, the shriek of jackhammers can be heard. Shopping centers, like the calendar, change with the seasons and fall is the time for pre-holiday spruce-ups.

In the early months of the year, stores slash prices to lure back customers who emptied their pockets over the holidays. In the summer, they keep the heat on by filling the racks with fall clothes. But in the fall, merchants finish up renovations and schedule openings in order to squeeze every dollar out of the approaching holiday shopping period, the hottest season of all.

As malls are hammering and pounding their way through September and October, they are preening to present their most alluring faces to shoppers come November. And, as in so many areas of retailing, the gargantuan South Coast Plaza leads the pack in store openings and major remodeling.

With seven stores slated to open before the end of December, South Coast Plaza will have 31,596 square feet of new retail space. A dozen stores have already opened since the beginning of this year and 13 have remodeled, bringing the total square footage of new stores opened since Jan. 1 to 48,701 and the total square footage of stores remodeled since that time to 44,127.

A glance at the names of the new stores reveals the shopping center's ongoing strategy to snatch the most affluent and style-conscious shoppers in the county. Sluggish enterprises like Hickory Farms of Ohio and Kaplan's delicatessen have made way for such glamorous stores as Tiffany & Co., Porsche Design and Laura Ashley Mother & Child. (Hickory Farms will become a temporary Christmas season tenant rather than year-round).

Marketing Director Maura Eggan says the new stores reflect the center's effort to give customers what they want. "We don't determine what the customers want; they do," she says. "Our goal is to be reactive to the customers."

Among the new stores are two giants: one famous and the other a little-known upstart. World-renowned Tiffany & Co. opens next month, with 10,500 square feet of diamonds, emeralds, silver and gold. The lesser-known Bernan's takes the space of Kaplan's deli with 13,000 square feet of retail space devoted to children in what the owners are calling a "department store for kids." The five remaining stores yet to open are Boehm, Gap Kids, Hemisphere, Oggetti and Porsche Design. The other stores that have opened since the first of the year include Alfred Dunhill, Avventura, Beach Access, Ben Bridge, Black, Starr & Frost, Bree, Cashmeres of Scotland, Gymboree, In-Wear Matinique, Joan & David, l.a. Eyeworks and Laura Ashley Mother & Child.

Likewise, the Crystal Court is scrambling to open a slew of stores before the holiday rush. Totaling about 10,000 square feet of new retail space, the six businesses are Alexon, Carleton Hair, Compact Discs Unlimited, Helft, Helmy House of Linen and Adrienne Vittadini. The mall will be about 80% leased with the opening of these stores this fall.

Along with new stores, you might have noticed something else happening at South Coast Plaza and the Crystal Court. Over the past few years, store windows have expanded outward, reaching further and further into the mall, almost literally grabbing customers as they stroll by. The Disney Store is probably the county's best example of these state-of-the-art windows. With convex panes popping out into the mall and constantly changing animated characters and props, the storefront commands the passer-by to stop and take a peek. The same grab 'em technique is used at the Polo Country Store at the Crystal Court and dozens of the center's other windows in which small dramas are unfolding behind pop-out windows.

This trend is being embraced by shopping centers all over the country. It is being dramatically demonstrated at the Brea Mall during a four-year make-over in which several old storefronts are being replaced by pop-out windows like those of Brea's Gymboree and Jay Jacobs.

Besides new windows, Brea shoppers are watching the 10-year-old center being transformed from dowdy to spanking new and stylishly rebuilt. When the $80-million renovation and expansion is completed, the mall's size will have increased about 60%.

By 1991, the construction will include a new Nordstrom building that will almost double the size of the present store, about 75 new stores, an expanded food court and a new department store, which is likely to be Robinson's but is still unofficial.

Busily building and painting and making life difficult for shoppers and employers, construction workers are hurrying to finish the center's interior renovation by November. The design, by RTKL Associates of Dallas, will include marble flooring, palm trees marching through center court, graphic carpeting and new handrails. The bleached handrails, new lighting and pale green and mauve accents will convey an early California mission look, according to the designers.

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