Draw a three-mile ring around Los Altos Shopping Center in Long Beach and you would think it would be one of the leading shopping areas of southeast Los Angeles County.
The household income is relatively high, much the same as that surrounding high-rolling malls in Lakewood and Cerritos. But the sprawling collection of shops that make up the Los Altos center looks more like it belongs in a struggling prairie town about to go bust.
On a weeknight a couple of weeks before Christmas, the holiday rush was nowhere in evidence. There were plenty of parking spaces and enough elbow room for an elephant to stroll down the sidewalks.
First opened in 1956, Los Altos grew up along Bellflower Boulevard. It straddles Stearns Street, which shoppers have to cross to get from one part of the shopping center to the other. It is a rambling, untidy assemblage of small shops and chain stores such as Broadway, JC Penney, Target and Woolworth--more the kind of place someone would run to for a last-minute purchase than for an afternoon of shopping.
"The Broadway is like a tomb," grumbled a Long Beach resident who said she tries to avoid the center.
But Los Altos may yet have another life.
Hungry for more sales tax income and convinced that the market is there to support a healthier center, the city is considering establishing a redevelopment zone to help rebuild and expand the complex. "If the design was improved, it could do quite well," observed a marketing consultant.
Using public money and powers of condemnation, the Redevelopment Agency could reassemble the center's land parcels, now held by a confusing array of owners.
Several of those owners have expressed support for the idea and shopkeepers also seem interested. "The city is 20 years late in getting this together," commented Leonard Siegel, who has run a woman's clothing shop at Los Altos for the past 25 years.
If the complex is renovated, he added with a smile, it will give him an excuse to retire.
LOS ALTOS SHOPPING CENTER, LONG BEACH * Year opened: 1956
* Retail square footage: 575,000
* Anchor stores: Broadway, JC Penney
* Number of stores: 70
* 1989 sales tax paid to city: Estimated $874,500
* % of city's total sales tax revenue: 3%
* Most memorable feature: Sprawled on opposites sides of a busy intersection.