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COMMENTARY : WORLD CUP USA '94 : How Do You Say "Where Is The Gap" in Bulgarian?

July 13, 1994|NORMAN CHAD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In our continuing informational series entitled, "This Is America: I Hope You Brought Money," today we poke our roving World Cup cameras into that most American of money institutions, The Mall. For it is at The Mall that we find out precisely why the world has come to Los Angeles these last few weeks--not for soccer, but for pins, pendants, posters, paperweights and, of course, Peter Max.

At The Mall we find stores that did not even exist several weeks ago and won't exist several weeks from now, but at this very moment are doing a brisk business in World Cup wastebasket backboards ($7.95).

"It's good old American ingenuity," said Melvin Galloway, manager of retail operations at The Soccer Experience in Beverly Center. "This is just a bunch of Americans getting in here, making a buck and getting out."

"I met people from all 24 countries (participating in the World Cup finals) within the first month of opening our doors," said Steve Cross, owner of Plaza Pasadena's World Soccer Store, which opened April 1 and will close Aug. 1. "It's been steady business."

(Mall Tip I for Visitors: These World Cup stores are busiest on the day of games; the stores are least busy when they're closed. "Actually, for the last three Sundays (in which there were games at the Rose Bowl), we had people waiting at the door an hour before the store was supposed to open," Cross said.)

(Mall Tip II for Visitors: We cannot help the world find its cars when done at The Mall.)

There appears to be a simple formula to track the spending habits of foreign visitors and foreign-born L.A. residents:

You win, you buy; you lose, you cry.

"Whenever a team is in town, their sales go through the roof," Galloway said. "And if they win a game, forget it--everything goes."

Meanwhile, there also appears to be a simple formula to track the spending habits of generic soccer fans and casual, local mall rats:

You got it, I'll get it.

"All of our product is moving," Galloway said. "There are no dogs." (Unless he has those soccer-playing dogs on velvet.)

Thus, the following items can be sold and bought, and, in fact, are sold and bought:

World Cup coffee mug ($11.50).

World Cup fabric wallet ($5.95).

World Cup money clip ($39.95).

World Cup sterling silver cuff links ($59).

World Cup gold watch ($179).

World Cup shin and ankle protector ($16).

World Cup temporary tattoo ($4.50).

And now for the big-ticket item, ladies and gentlemen:

World Cup full-leather country jacket, Jeff Hamilton-designed, hand-stitched in L.A., 100% lambskin ($900).

Now, these are all practical items--particularly if you happen to be shopping for Johnny Depp--but there is some merchandise that we have to recommend against:

--Pins. What's the deal with this pin craze the last 10 years? They're just pins, for crying out loud. (Obviously, the public disagrees. Cross does 10% of his business on pins. "It's a $5 souvenir," he explained. "It packs easy and you don't have to worry about sizes." Yeah, well, if that's all it takes, how come shoelace sales aren't booming?)

People buy pins, trade pins, collect pins and, ultimately, stick themselves with pins. (So many pins, so few shirts and coats.) There are subsets of pins--city pins, team pins, nation pins, even McDonald's pins. It's kind of hard to collect them all, unless you don't mind eating Egg McMuffins every day for a month.

--Peter Max. What, his 15 years of fame aren't up yet? It's just schlock art, for crying out loud. (Obviously, the public disagrees. "All my Peter Max stuff sells plenty," Galloway said. "The posters, the T-shirts, it's all popular." Yeah, well, not to burst any cold-water bubbles here, but that fancy schmancy soccer design on all those Peter Max T-shirts--how's that baby going to hold up after going through the laundry? After three washings, it'll just look like a Rorschach test.)

Here's a tipoff on the quality of his work: The poster from the "Peter Max collection" sells for $60 framed, or $14 unframed. That means the frame is worth three times as much as the art, so how good can this guy be? (And why is he always referred to as "Peter Max?" Well, OK, sometimes it's "pop artist Peter Max." But it's never just "Max." Besides which, we'll take a good LeRoy Nieman water color any day of the week over any Peter Max finger painting.

--Neckties. People, people, people--there is absolutely no way any World Cup necktie looks good tied around anyone's neck. Case closed. (Obviously, the public disagrees. Our World Cup cameras spotted an otherwise respectable-looking, middle-aged man at Farmers Market last week wearing a necktie featuring the likeness of Roberto Baggio. Folks--and we shouldn't have to say this more than once--when you buy a fine Italian silk tie, it does not have to have an Italian on it.)

Actually, the best buy might be the T-shirts that provide information about each World Cup nation. For $16.95, the front of the T-shirt includes capital, population, language, area, currency, continent and precise geographical location of the nation in question. (Saudi Arabia: 24 deg N lat; 46 deg E long.)

Of course, this won't help you find your car when you're done at The Mall, but it will give you some sense of direction--along with your World Cup compass ($8.50)--when you finally manage to leave.

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