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Terminal Shopping : In Toronto, a New International Airline Facility Offers the Mad Delights of an Upscale Mall

December 15, 1991|BETH ANN KRIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Krier is a feature writer and shopping columnist for The Times.

MISSISSAUGA, Canada — A six-foot-tall teddy bear doorman beckons you to Harrods of London as he guards the store's terra-cotta exterior with its crisp, moss-green awnings. Inside, atop a $54,000 carpet flown in from London, you'll find "Masterpiece Theatre"-style accouterments traditionally favored by persnickety Britons: Victorian jewelry, lead soldiers, antique golf clubs, dainty tea-time biscuits, classic haberdashery and croquet sets designed for use on the office carpet. The doorman himself can be taken home for about $3,800.

A few steps away is Caviar House, where you can pick up foie gras to go, among more than 3,000 exotic possibilities. Smoked bison pastrami. Strawberry honey. And, of course, both Iranian and Russian caviar.

Next door is an outpost of the SoapBerry Shop chain, providing a dizzying array of fragrant bath, body and aromatherapy products ranging from private-label mud to beeswax mascara, said to be a must for those crippled by sensitive eyelashes.

As you stroll through the more than 80 upscale shops and restaurants here--some with suede walls or giant T-shirts suspended from the ceiling--it might be any of a number of the world's monuments to high-end consumption. You could be in the newest "court" of Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza. Perhaps another floor opening up in Los Angeles' cavernous Beverly Center. Or the latest right-side-of-the-tracks shopping mecca anywhere in the world.

In fact, you haven't touched down in a traditional mall or outdoor shopping plaza at all. You've landed at an airport, Pearson International in Mississauga, 25 miles southwest of downtown Toronto. To be more precise, you're at Trillium, Canada's first privately financed and operated international air terminal, which opened in February to the delight of both locals and interna tional visitors.

A massive complex, Trillium's architectural highlight is its Grand Hall, where pristine airline check-in counters are bathed in natural light emanating from a huge skylight. Most of the shops are around the corner, before you get to the metal detectors, winding along an aisle reminiscent of a generic shopping center.

Named for the official flower of the province of Ontario and also known as Terminal 3, Trillium houses a store where travelers can rent a cellular phone or a portable fax machine during their stays. It has a crafts emporium doing brisk business in $700 rice-paper lamps that resemble Royal Canadian Mounties riding zebras. And the usual shops providing electronic gadgets, books, designer sunglasses, silk neckties, Disney toys and more. A 494-room, luxury Swissotel opened in July and is attached to the Grand Hall by an enclosed walkway.

Along with 14 fast-food stands such as A&W, Manchu Wok and Cookies By George (the Mrs. Fields of Canada), there are 14 cafes and bars in Trillium, among them a trattoria , an oyster bar and Uncle Sam's, serving well-loved American sandwiches.

According to shopkeepers, some of the Toronto area's most sophisticated residents were so intrigued with Trillium's stores and restaurants that they began visiting them even before the planes showed up.

Some Toronto residents, such as Kelly Burnett, a human resources consultant, have shopped there repeatedly. "It's great. We've used it three times this year," she says. "My daughter flew to Brazil and we shopped there when we took her to the airport. And we also bought things when we flew to England and the Northern Territories. It's a welcome change. Instead of all the garbage--the touristy stuff--there are some really great things there. I picked up two or three items of clothing and some jewelry I never expected to buy."

Indeed, Trillium's stores and eating esablishments were designed to woo captive jet-setters from all over the world with both quality and diversity. Experts on airports say the terminal provides the most extensive consumption oppportunities of any in North America.

The sizable profit potential from such a retail venture (and other revenue-generating operations such as display advertising in the terminal) is leading other cities to explore private operation and perhaps private financing of their airport terminals. Los Angeles is among a handful of U.S. cities considering the possibilities, which would no doubt be accompanied by the type of expanded retail opportunities offered at Trillium.

"It's something that a lot of people are looking seriously at in this country. About a half-dozen cities in the United States--Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Peoria and Indianapolis--are looking at selling their major airports," says Robert Poole, president of the Santa Monica-based Reason Foundation, a conservative think tank that has long promoted the idea of privately operated, leased or owned airline terminals. "L.A. is probably the furthest along in terms of detailed studies," Poole says.

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