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Northridge

By WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Retailers at Northridge Fashion Center say the mall’s overall performance has improved steadily since it reopened following the 1994 earthquake. But heading into this year’s crucial holiday retail season, it still has a lot of catching up to do. A Robinsons/May department store and at least four other smaller stores in the north wing shut their doors in late summer, significantly lessening the area’s draw. Robinsons/May closed the store to consolidate it with another Robinsons/May at the south end of the mall. Slated to open in place of the closed north-end stores are at least five stores and restaurants and a 10-screen Pacific Theaters complex. But those are not slated to open until next July, said Fashion Center spokeswoman Annette Bethers. The north end’s troubles are the exception to what has been an overall steady improvement in the mall’s performance since it reopened. “I don’t think there is any lingering thought process that this isn’t a shopping center in full operation,” said Richard Giss, a partner in the retail services group of Deloitte & Touche LLC in Los Angeles. “I think it’s re-established itself as a shopping destination.” The center had an 85 percent occupancy rate as of November, up slightly from 83 percent a year earlier, said the Fashion Center’s general manager, Lloyd Miller. For the 12-month period ended Oct. 31, 14.5 million people visited the mall, an 8 percent increase from the like year-earlier period. A stronger 23 percent rise in foot traffic was reported for 1996 over 1995. The growing ranks of customers have led to high hopes for the holidays. “I can see we’re doing better than this time last year,” said Chris Welton, a sales associate at the General Nutrition Center outlet, located near the Fashion Center’s center court, where a Santa Claus character greets youngsters. “I think we’ll have a better holiday season than last year, which was actually pretty good.” Welton also said he has the impression the mall has recovered from the toll taken by the earthquake. “Maybe it took people a while to realize the mall is really open and has a lot of stores, but they’re coming in now,” Welton said. Some customers agreed that conditions have improved somewhat, but that more progress could be made. “It seems livelier these days because it was really kind of dead for a while,” said Samantha Ray, a freshman at Cal State Northridge who said she has been coming to the mall since she was a child. “I think before the earthquake there used to be more shops, more things to do.”

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