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CITYSCAPES

Valley Icon's Reopening Has Some, Like, Worried

Like small-town business owners dreading invasions of Wal-Marts, merchants are already bracing for the Galleria reopening.

February 17, 2001|KRISTINA SAUERWEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Omigod! The shopping mall that totally introduced the world to the high-pitched, grody-to-the-max Valley Girl vernacular is, like, coming back.

Fer sure!

After being dead for two years, the Sherman Oaks Galleria, a national icon of 1980s teenage mall culture, immortalized in the Frank and Moon Zappa song "Valley Girl" and films such as "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," is being resurrected into a high-end, open-air retail and entertainment center.

While shoppers, including grown-up Valley Girls, can't wait to reunite with and discover the tubular Galleria, its reconstruction and reopening have sparked a distinct streak of paranoia in the nearby cafes and boutiques along Ventura Boulevard. Fearful of losing customers, many Sherman Oaks business owners made it clear that they'd like to gag the Galleria with a spoon.

"Why didn't they just let it die?" one restaurant owner asked.

The 880,000-square-foot outdoor retail, entertainment and office center at Ventura and Sepulveda boulevards is scheduled to open this summer with the same sort of hoopla the mall received when it shut down in early 1999 because of flagging sales.

The death of the original Galleria attracted eulogies in media far and wide. Many believe the closing of the box-like shopping center, with notoriously bad parking, signaled the end of the whole mall phenomenon.

After demolishing about half the old mall and building around the remains at an undisclosed cost, developers herald the new, open-air Galleria as a retail trendsetter.

Among other tenants, it will boast 16-screen Pacific Theaters, Cheesecake Factory, Fuddruckers, Prego Ristorante, Burke Williams Day Spa and the nation's largest Tower Books, Records and Video store as well as 600,000 square feet of high-end offices housing Warner Bros. and other companies. The Galleria's owner, Douglas, Emmett and Co. of Santa Monica, is also talking with other large retailers, including sports and home stores.

The center is being touted as the premier attraction in the San Fernando Valley and, in the same vein as Old Pasadena and Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, the Greater Los Angeles area.

Which isn't what those on Ventura Boulevard want to hear. Like small-town business owners dreading invasions of the big, bad Wal-Marts, merchants are already bracing for the Galleria reopening. They fear that the behemoth will steal Valley consumers and drain activity in the rebounding business district along Ventura Boulevard, roughly between Cedros Avenue and Van Nuys Boulevard.

"I think the Galleria could put me out of business," said Tony Turgeman, owner of an upscale boutique offering imported French and Italian clothing. "It could be devastating for Ventura Boulevard."

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The area offers a scattering of mom-and-pop stores featuring haughty decor, triple-X-rated porn, used CDs, homemade crafts, wedding gowns, tattoos, diamonds, cigars and guitars as well as a handful of chain stores, including Tower and Borders Books and Music. Restaurants range from sushi bars, Italian bistros and seedy dives to staples such as Starbucks, Jamba Juice and Togos. Some businesses last for decades, many for a year or two or less.

Already, the Galleria's threat is real. Anchored at Ventura Boulevard and Cedros Avenue since 1982, Tower Records plans to ditch the boulevard for the Galleria. The music store attracts people of all ages from all parts of the Valley, and business and city leaders say they do not know what will replace it.

"Losing Tower will hurt," said K.C. Dhiraj, manager of Collectors Guide, a collectibles and toy store across the street from Tower. "It brought in foot traffic. A good chunk of our regulars also shop at Tower."

Tower spokeswoman Sara Hanson called the Galleria "a spectacular development" that will allow the chain store to more than triple in size to 50,000 square feet. The two-story Tower location will offer music and videos on the top level and a bookstore and cafe on the promenade level--a direct competitor with Ventura Boulevard's other anchor, Borders Books and Music, which opened in late 1999.

Despite merchants' worries, city leaders say the Galleria will also draw people onto Ventura Boulevard. "People who work at the Galleria will go to the boulevard to shop and eat," said Sharon Mayer, chief field deputy for Councilman Mike Feuer, whose district includes Sherman Oaks.

The Galleria's reincarnation comes on the heels of citywide efforts to invigorate Ventura Boulevard, where many visitors complain of parking hassles, traffic and a lack of security.

In August 1999, the Los Angeles City Council approved the area as a Business Improvement District. This means a majority of the property owners in a certain area--in this case, the portion of the boulevard that includes Tower as well as part of Van Nuys Boulevard to the north--agree to assess themselves a fee based on storefront footage, while the city provides seed money to help merchants organize.

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