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Riches to Rags Tale?

Owner of Upscale Boutique Says Dust Is Taking Her to Cleaners

July 01, 1998|LESLIE EARNEST | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Aissa Wayne remembers the advice that her father--legendary actor John Wayne--used to give when her mother needed the right dress for a special occasion.

"He would say, 'Go to Apropos,' " she said.

Today, she'd have to find an alternative.

The tony Fashion Island boutique, which lures well-heeled shoppers from Beverly Hills and Saudi Arabia, has been shuttered since May.

Owner Pat Waxman blames the closure of her Newport Beach store on construction dust from a soon-to-open Starbucks coffee outlet next door.

Waxman said she won't sell dusty clothing. And if she cleans the garments, they would have to be sold as used apparel, at a huge discount.

"I carry wonderful merchandise," she said. "I can't expect my customers to accept clothes that have been destroyed by construction dust."

The battle lines, it seems, are being drawn. On one side is a lone veteran retailer whose moneyed clientele includes judges, attorneys, artists and actors. On the other is a giant coffee company that is proliferating nationwide. In between are insurance firms, a construction company and one of the showiest shopping centers in Orange County.

Seattle-based Starbucks issued a one-sentence statement saying the matter has been turned over to insurance companies and that it is confident it will be resolved. Starbucks' construction company, CMG Construction in El Segundo, did not return telephone calls.

Waxman wants reimbursement and damages totaling $1.5 million before reopening the store. She fumes at the prospect that the new Starbucks--which opened Saturday--could be in business before she is.

Meanwhile, her clientele--some of whom have shopped at Apropos stores in Orange and Los Angeles counties since she opened the first one in La Habra in 1961--is suffering what could be described as withdrawal symptoms.

"I was totally upset," said Anaheim resident Jean Davenport, who learned of the closure several weeks ago when a friend called from New York to break the news. "I've had a headache ever since."

Fashion Island General Manager Henry Lichtman said such problems are commonplace at malls where shops are continually being added or remodeled. Generally, he said, the difficulties are easily resolved.

During the Starbucks construction, the contractor tried to divert dust by sealing the premises and duct openings and using "misters" to dampen the dust so it would sink to the ground, he said. CMG also employed a machine that reroutes the dust outdoors, Lichtman said. Most nearby stores reported minimal or no problems, he said.

Waxman's customers say they appreciate the position she has taken. They would expect no less, they say, from a store where scarves cost $156, suits go for $1,600 and an evening dress may run $2,800.

"Listen, if I pay $800 to $1,200 for something, I really don't expect anything to be wrong with it, except maybe it won't be in style next season," said Davenport. "When you spend that kind of money, you can go anyplace."

To represent her in the skirmish, Waxman has hired Robb Greenspan, a public adjuster with Greenspan Co./Adjusters International in Los Angeles. The battle could eventually move to the courtroom.

Waxman is initially seeking reimbursement from her insurance company, Pacific National Insurance Co., which can in turn seek compensation from whomever it thinks is responsible, Greenspan said.

The Pacific National insurance adjuster who is handling the claim declined to comment.

Waxman is determined that Apropos will reopen. "My store is not permanently closed," she said.

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