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Can We Talk Shop? : Torque of Humanity or Safety of the Mall?


Does shopping bore you? Thrill you? Is it a means to an end? An endless means?

This is the time of year when few can avoid the tug of merchandising. There are sales and Santas behind every set of double-wide glass doors.

If you want the glitz of a Horton Plaza, you'll have to drive south; if you want the frenzy of the Garment District, you'll have to head north to L.A. North County has a shopping climate of its own.

If what you want are a couple of few-frills mega-malls, lots of small shops, discount clothing outlets, bulk-buying power, more video stores than there are videos, the latest in sports equipment and some real nice sales clerks, you're in the right neck of the woods.

We asked some Times staff writers who live in North County to tell us how they shop. Here's what they had to say:

We Gormans are equal opportunity shoppers, capitalizing on a society that provides us regional malls, neighborhood malls, strip commercial centers and member-only discount warehouses.

We like the Mervyn's-Target center alongside I-15 in Escondido. It's on the way home from church on Sunday, easing us from religion to retailing. At Target, our 10-year-old daughter can hang out in the toy and girl's clothes sections, the 15-year-old son is drawn to electronics and CDs, and the wife and I can go through the jeans and sweat shirts before we all converge again and head for Mervyn's, where there's always something on sale.

But, most often, when wife and I talk about Shopping with a capital S, we have a simple decision. There's North County Fair, the mega-mall in Escondido with a zillion stores, boutiques and cart vendors spread out over three levels, and a centralized food court for re-grouping purposes. Then there's the frenetic simplicity of the Price Club in San Marcos.

There are differences between these two venues.

The mall has a dozen or so entrances, and you have to choose just the right one based on your targets for the day. The Sears end? The JC Penney's end? Should you enter mid-ship, through May Co. or The Broadway or Nordstrom or Robinson's, for a quick fix of upper-end fashions? Or are you going slumming, so enter through a regular mall entrance? Then, do you turn left or right?

The Price Club has one entrance, through a massive garage door, and, once you're inside, you're captured in a whirlpool. The torque of the human flow takes you to the right, through jewelry's one-carat diamonds and electronics' computers and boom boxes, past potted plants and oil paintings and power tools, into personal hygiene (need a gallon of mouthwash?). Then you whip along the back wall, past dog food and into beer and soda, then down the grocery side, where you buy cheese in pounds, milk in multi-gallons, coffee in plantations and cookies in cases.

At some point, you angle for the center of the store--the seasonal promotions, the art books and Steele's paperbacks, the silk sport coats and women's slacks, underwear (in packages so huge you need to buy a new dresser to put them in), the office goods, the linen towels, the pricey Lladro and the bags of nickel candy.

At the mall, a family of four can eat at the Red Robin for $25. You get a view of the interior mall, the flow of friends and neighbors having a good time.

At Price Club, four huge hot-dogs and refillable sodas cost about $6. You sit ringside to the parking lot.

At the mall, you can rest on a park bench.

At Price Club, you stall in the aisle and you're dead meat. Motorists give more respect to dead opossums on the highway.

You can spend all day at the mall, browse, not find what you want, not spend a buck, shrug it off and dismiss the experience as, well, a day at the mall. Maybe next month.

You can spend 60 minutes at the Price Club, drop $200 on deals just too good to pass up and almost forget to buy the milk you came in to get in the first place. And you go back three days later for some more milk, and buy two CDs, another paperback and, what the heck, the package of underwear.

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