THOUSAND OAKS — They came in throngs--some from nearby Newbury Park and Agoura Hills, others from Port Hueneme, others still from as far as Arcadia.
On Thursday the Promenade at Westlake was the place to be.
And many of the thousands of shoppers who flocked to the new mall on opening day agreed on two things. With its welcoming ambience and its upscale restaurants and shops, the Promenade is a much-needed addition to Thousand Oaks. And there isn't enough parking.
"I've been dying to come over," said Wendy Kraus of Moorpark, who was strolling through the mall in the middle of the day. "It looks so neat. The way it's decorated, the brick-lined walls, all the colors, the window boxes. It is all so pretty."
Meanwhile, the Promenade's staff was directing traffic through a 1,600-space parking lot that was mostly full. At times, cars trying to turn into the mall backed up several hundred feet on both Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards.
But the man who envisioned the Promenade as a modern-day town square saw opening day as an undisputed success.
"If parking is the biggest problem, then we did things right," said developer Rick Caruso, president of Brentwood-based Caruso Affiliated Holdings. "This is where people want to be."
And some made sure they would be there early.
Shoppers lined up outside Bristol Farms before its 7 a.m. opening, said Jodi Taylor, director of advertising and marketing for the specialty grocery chain. By noon the eight cash registers had rung up a total of 5,000 sales, she said.
At Cost Plus, 400 shoppers queued up for the 9 a.m. opening to cash in on a free merchandise offer. Mike Adams, vice president of marketing for the retail chain, said he expected the store would have completed 1,400 sales by closing time.
Throughout the day, shoppers and gawkers walked up and down the Promenade's main sidewalk. Some lingered on fountain-side benches. Others waited 45 minutes for a seat at a sidewalk restaurant.
Tina Goodman-Brown of Newbury Park read a book at one of the mall's many outdoor tables while waiting for two friends--one from Tarzana and one from Arcadia. Goodman-Brown, who works in Torrance, said the Promenade was a comfortable place to sit around but parking was awful.
She added: "But when you drive in Los Angeles you get used to it."
The crowds are not expected to abate any time soon.
A four-day opening extravaganza will continue through the weekend with bluegrass bands, jazz bands, jugglers, magicians, book signings, product tastings, cooking demonstrations, jewelry making and a movie mania--the eight-screen Mann Theaters is offering 50-cent movies, 50-cent popcorn and 50-cent sodas throughout the weekend.
"It's going to be busy through the holidays," said Caruso, whose Promenade is not yet complete.
Club Disney, a 23,000-square-foot play land for kids 10 and under, which includes an activities center, a retail store and a Mickey's Cafe, is scheduled to open in February. And more shops and restaurants along Thousand Oaks Boulevard are expected to open early next year.
Amid Thursday's bustle, a group of retired grocery clerks picketed outside Bristol Farms complaining that the store's employees were not part of a union.
But inside, employees, who receive stock in the company, said they didn't mind the picketers. "I don't think they understand that we are owner-partners," Taylor said.
In the parking lot, Ron Hajek sat inside his car with his wife and two kids. The family, who came from Port Hueneme to benefit from some of the advertised store giveaways, waited patiently for a parking space to open up.
"I didn't think it would be this crowded," Hajek said. "We wouldn't have come otherwise."
For Nancy Apregan and her 4-year-old daughter, Erin, the Promenade was like being in Disneyland. And the Agoura Hills mother found a way around the parking crunch.
"We parked at Ralphs [in the North Ranch Mall] across the street and walked," she said.