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At Mall Parking Lot, It's Blue Friday

Tens of thousands of shoppers compete for 6,500 spaces at the Glendale Galleria as the Christmas shopping season gets underway.

November 26, 2005|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

A sign at the entrance to the Glendale Galleria told employees to park at the Los Angeles Zoo. But shoppers who ventured into the mall's parking garage Friday had to contend with a zoo of their own.

That was what bargain-hunters and car-lot attendants alike were calling the jampacked parking structures at the Galleria as the holiday shopping season got off to a crawling start.

Tens of thousands of shoppers were jockeying for 6,500 parking spots as they tried to cash in on day-after-Thanksgiving sales.

At malls across Southern California, it was so-called "Black Friday," the hectic shopping day so named because many retailers go into the black for the first time in the year because of heavy sales. But perhaps the bleakest place to be Black Friday was in those gloomy, congested parking garages.

"It's taken me more than 40 minutes to find this spot," sighed a frazzled Liliana Rios of downtown Los Angeles as she finally squeezed her white SUV into a stall seconds after it was vacated by a black compact car.

"I circled all the way through this place four or five times before I found somebody pulling out. We're finally here," she said as another adult and six children piled out.

Farther up the aisle, a line of cars snaked around a corner. In the distance, frustrated drivers honked horns at motorists who blocked the aisle as they waited for other cars to leave.

"I'll give you a ride to your car!" yelled one driver to a shopping bag-toting pedestrian walking down one of the lanes. The shopper grinned and pointed toward the next aisle over, indicating that his spot was out of the gridlocked driver's reach.

The Galleria hired about five dozen orange-jacketed lot attendants from a valet parking company to direct traffic and keep cars moving in its parking structures.

Attendant Ray Reyes was expertly using hand signals to steer motorists who were entering the garage from Columbus Avenue. When that didn't work, he used his voice.

"You! You have to go that way! That way!" he shouted at one driver who was trying to turn left into a lane that was filled with cars. "Keep going, please. Awww ... c'mon!"

Most shoppers were happy to have help. Others clearly preferred to chart their own course.

"One guy threatened me. He told me I should watch where I stand, that I might just get run over," said Reyes, 48, of South Los Angeles. "He thought I was a jerk. It's been this way since 8:30 this morning. It was hell around 11:30. It seemed like everybody was trying to leave at the same time."

In fact, getting out of the parking structure was just as nerve-wracking as getting in for some.

At 2:15 p.m. a white minivan collided with a teal-green sedan that was pulling out from a garage onto a Galleria driveway. The impact smashed the right rear wheel of the car and shattered its plastic hubcap. The sedan came to a stop next to a large sign that announced that the employees' "shuttle program" was in effect and that mall workers must park at the Los Angeles Zoo two miles away.

The woman who was driving the car climbed out, peeled the remnant of the wheel cover off her car and jumped back inside. Spying an opening in a left-turn lane leading to Colorado Street, she headed for it without even a nod to the man who hit her.

Not everybody was in a hurry to leave, though. Some shoppers grabbed a parking place early and held onto it tightly until late.

"It took me about 15 minutes to find a place to park when I got here at 6:30 a.m. I come early. I know what I'm doing," said Melinda Pressman, a preschool director from Thousand Oaks. "We do this every year."

Eight hours into her shopping excursion, Pressman was making another trip to the parking lot to stash bags in her car's trunk. Motorists who were lined up in her car's aisle watched her expectantly as she walked from the Galleria entrance. Then they watched disgustedly as she deposited her purchases, turned around and returned to the mall.

The Galleria is one of the biggest shopping centers in the nation, sprawling over several blocks in downtown Glendale. It draws customers from throughout the region, one reason why it seemed so busy Friday.

But farther west, where competing malls about a mile apart were battling for business, the parking crunch was not so bad.

Tom Park pulled into the Beverly Center near the border of Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills and immediately found a second-level parking spot shortly after noon.

"I was lucky. I was expecting to have to drive around 5 or 10 minutes to find a place, to be honest," said Park, a 36-year-old wireless company engineer from Philadelphia who was in town for a Thanksgiving family visit. He said there are more cars in Los Angeles than where he lives, but roadways -- and parking structures -- are bigger here.

It turned out that Park wasn't really all that lucky. Deeper into the second level were dozens of empty parking spots. At the fifth level, there were hundreds of them.

The same was true at The Grove shopping center in the Fairfax area. By 12:45 p.m. there were 919 empty parking spaces, according to the automatic counter that advises motorists of parking availability at the parking structure's various floors.

Although the counter's signs listed levels 3, 4 and 5 as "full," dozens of empty spots could be seen.

"We were worried that we might not find a place. But not today. We pulled right in," said Benita Spector of West Los Angeles, who brought her son and daughter visiting from Indianapolis to The Grove to shop.

That helped make a perfect start to the holiday season for her and her out-of-town family members.

"No snow. Sandal-wearing weather. Plenty of parking," Spector said with a laugh.

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