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From Milan to Melrose: Stores Get Real : George's Dept. Store: No blenders, but an eclectic clutter of used jeans, cool sportswear and offbeat treasures.

August 07, 1992|WILLIAM KISSEL

It doesn't anchor a mall. And there are no full-page newspaper ads announcing one-day sales and personal appearances by designers. So how does George Foon, a boyish 26-year-old Chinese-Hawaiian-Korean entrepreneur from South-Central Los Angeles, have the nerve to call his tiny Melrose shop George's Department Store?

"When I was a kid my mother used to take me to this great place called the Surprise Store in Culver City," says Foon. "She would give me $100 and I would walk out with armloads of clothes.

"I kept that in mind when I opened this store. I wanted people to come in and get a lot for their money."

In truth, the department store moniker is an apt description. Only in a department store would one find such a chaotic mix of merchandise. From floor to ceiling, the 3,500-square-foot space is cluttered with men's and women's sportswear, Mexican furniture, newspaper vending machines, Indian baskets, incense burners, African masks and beads, used cowboy boots, stationery, bath gels and scented oils. The merchandise conceals a Barcelona-inspired interior created by Larry Totah (of Maxfield fame) for a previous tenant.

The store opened just over a year ago when he met Kiichi Tsunemi, a Japanese businessman looking for a U. S. investment.

"We thought of dividing the store into departments . . . a hip-hop area over here, casual sportswear over there," says Foon. "But then we thought customers would go to one department and leave. This way they have to walk around the whole store to find the surprises."

The surprises include worn jeans ($10) and field jackets ($19) from a local penitentiary. ("I can't reveal my source," he says. "But it's someone known on the inside.") Newer fashion items include super-baggy Corniche jeans ($30) and hooded coats ($37); Red Eraser mesh T-shirts ($30); Jack Purcell sneakers ($38); Unitryb pullovers ($30); and hundreds of baseball caps ($20).

George's features an FBI strongbox ($57), which comes with a surveillance tape titled "Acts of Nature." "We don't know what that is and we don't have the right size recorder to watch it," says Foon. A vintage gas pump is in the window for $2,500.

Who shops at such an oddball store? The average customer is between the age of 21 and 30, and simply "likes fashion and swap meets," says Foon. Film, fashion and video stylists are also regular shoppers.

And every month they find something new to admire. Last month George's sold out of an $8 novelty item from India that featured a painted snake jumping out of a wooden egg. This month's hot sellers include $30 T-shirts and $20 skull caps by Spot Sport and 26 Red.

"You've got to have style of some sort," Foon says of the eclectic mix.

"The store is probably not for everyone."

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