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EARTHQUAKE / The Long Road Back : Overcoming the Jolts : At a Valley Mall, an Army of Workers Helps Prepare for the Return of the Shellshocked

January 26, 1994|H. G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The pungent aroma of garlic and pizza sauce wafted across the second floor of the Woodland Hills Promenade, seeping through the dust masks worn by an army of workers hired to clean up the earthquake-damaged mall.

It didn't take long to trace the odor to Williams-Sonoma, where the floor was stained and littered with olive oil, sauces and glass from broken bottles and cookware. Inside, half a dozen workers scooped the floor clean with wide shovels. Nothing was salvaged.

"It's garlic city," said a mall employee who happened by. "But it smells good."

Such cleanup scenes have been duplicated over the last week in shopping areas across the San Fernando Valley. Of the six major Valley malls forced by the quake to close, the Promenade was the only one back in business last weekend. Fallbrook Mall in West Hills reopened Tuesday.

Construction workers and cleanup crews worked with military efficiency to prepare the 21-year-old Promenade for business last Saturday. Of its 60-odd stores and restaurants, 22 were up and running, including Bullock's. Saks Fifth Avenue and about 10 other stores are expected to be open by the weekend, and the rest of the specialty shops will reopen over the next few weeks.

Officials don't know when the third anchor, an I. Magnin & Co. store, will be able to reopen.

Jittery earthquake survivors began trickling back over the weekend, but most merchants said business was still slow Tuesday. Nevertheless, Kim Solomon--who manages the mall for its owner, New York-based O'Connor Group--said she was encouraged by the activity during the first days after the quake.

"Business was fair," she said. "We didn't set the world on fire, but people are ready to get their lives back to normal, and shopping is part of that."

A block away, Topanga Plaza remained shuttered. By comparison, the Promenade, which underwent a $40-million renovation last year, was fortunate. There was no structural damage; the mall's trademark skylight didn't even crack.

In the days immediately after the quake, however, the Promenade looked like so many other area malls and shopping strips: broken windows, cracked tiles, upended merchandise, a crooked "E" on a big exterior sign.

While most of the retailers inside struggled to clear away debris, restock merchandise and deal with contractors hired to fix lights and replace windows, Anne Cohen, manager of the D. Laurenti men's store, occupied herself with more mundane matters--such as writing signs for the store's weekend "EARTHQUAKE SALE!"

"I'm a very organized person," Cohen said. "We're trying to make the store look like nothing happened."

On the second floor, a crew of young women walked around Victoria's Secret, picking up hundreds of bottles of shower gel, lotion and other merchandise that littered the floor of the lingerie shop. The manager methodically inventoried every item.

The cleanup at the Nature Company, a gift shop with an environmental theme, was sped along with the help of employees brought in from the firm's Santa Barbara store--and the unexpected assistance of Gordon Maybury, the company's vice president in charge of retail, and other officers from the corporate office in Berkeley.

"Maybury had just landed in New York when he heard about the quake and turned right around and flew out here," said store manager Judi Morales, who commutes from Costa Mesa. "Our corporate people got it together very quickly. We couldn't have completed the cleanup this fast without their help."

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