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San Fernando
Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

RETAIL—Eat, Watch and Shop

PROMENADE mall WILL DEVOTE an ENTIRE FLOOR TO entertainment A few weeks ago, Wolfgang Puck Cafe hung out a new, 17-foot sign. Next month, the restaurant will get a facelift. Fine jeweler Gideon’s just remodeled. And the owner of Mahogany Bay is thinking about extending the store’s hours well into the evening. The changes have been sparked by the start of a major construction project designed to transform the now-deserted lower level of Westfield Shoppingtown Promenade into an entertainment complex. With the overhaul of the troubled mall finally underway, merchants elsewhere in the center are digging in, sprucing up and making plans for the future. “I think this is going to be something like the (Third Street) Promenade in Santa Monica or like CityWalk,” said Hersel Goharchin, the manager at Gideon’s. “If you want to go and have fun, there isn’t anything in Woodland Hills. I think this is going to be great.” Westfield Corp. Inc., the mall’s owner, has closed deals to bring five new tenants into the shopping center, filling most of the lower level of the 600,000-square-foot complex with venues to eat, drink, relax and make merry. Maggiano’s, a family-style Italian restaurant chain headquartered in Chicago, will move into a 17,000-square-foot space with a sister company, Corner Bakery. Also in the months ahead, Barnes & Noble will open a 25,000-square-foot store, joining Jillian’s, a megaplex of bars, discos, restaurants, video games and bowling lanes also set to operate at the mall. Another restaurant chain, P.F. Chang’s, opened last month. “We’ve looked at the lower level and tried to re-tenant the property to play off the (existing movie) theater and the restaurants and differentiate it from (Westfield Shoppingtown) Topanga,” said David Doll, senior executive vice president for development at Westfield. The Promenade has long suffered in the shadow of the Topanga mall, about a mile to the north. At about 1 million square feet, Topanga has three retail anchors Nordstrom, Robinsons-May and Sears and enough specialty chains to draw customers from throughout the West San Fernando Valley and beyond. In contrast, the Promenade has just one retail anchor, Macy’s. Though previous owners have tried to position the mall as a chi-chi alternative to Topanga with such shops as I. Magnin and Saks Fifth Avenue, those stores moved out when sales failed to materialize. Even the addition of a 16-screen AMC movie theater in the mid-1990s failed to translate to increased sales for the retail tenants. “With the movies, we just experience a lot of lookey loo’s,” said the manager of one of the center’s boutiques who didn’t want her name used. “It’s empty and it seems it’s been that way for a while.” Distinctive destination Westfield, which also owns the Topanga mall, needed a strategy for reviving the center that would not compete directly with its sister complex. Rather than seek new retail tenants, Westfield officials decided to take an entirely different route. The company allowed most of the retail leases on the lower level to run out (a few stores were moved to the upper level) and moved to fill the entire lower level with entertainment destinations instead. “I think it’s a great strategy,” said Robert Starkman, a partner with the real estate advisory services practice at Ernst & Young LLP. “The other mall would remain as the premier regional center and here, about a mile away, they’re going to have the premier entertainment destination.” Traditional malls draw shoppers who come because they want a large selection of stores, and the same retailers can usually be found in most of these complexes. The Promenade, with boutiques like Coach, J. Crew and Williams Sonoma that limit their outlets to select centers, has always drawn shoppers who come to visit a particular store. Shoppers like Fran Jacobs, who was shopping at the Promenade on a recent sweltering afternoon, don’t even consider the center a mall. “I usually go to the regular mall,” she said, referring to Topanga Plaza. “This is more specialized and you can find out-of-the-ordinary things here.” Such perceptions mean the customers who do come to the mall are usually there to shop, not to browse or hang out. But without a steady stream of traffic, most merchants have to rely on repeat business to stay afloat. “We get a lot of ladies who are waiting for their husbands to get fitted for tuxedos,” said Marcia Berkowitz, assistant manager at Anna-Bella of Woodland Hills, which is located just across the way from a tuxedo shop. “But most of our customers are repeat customers.” The hope is that the overhaul will attract a fresh supply of customers. “We’re excited about the fact that they’re doing something, and we hope that what they’re doing will help the retail business,” said Joan Rozsa, the manager at Ames, a women’s specialty store. Seeking shoppers The existing restaurants at the Promenade also are hopeful that the additional traffic will boost their sales. Wolfgang Puck Cafe will remodel next month, changing its pop-art color scheme to a more sophisticated palette and adding 13 more booths. “We’re in a mall where there’s been nothing for the last year,” said Karl Buckman, the restaurant’s manager, who took advantage of the opening of P.F. Chang’s last month to hang a new sign over the entryway that faces the parking lot. “There was nothing to bring people in.” While the changes are expected to spike sales at the mall’s existing restaurants and the movie theater, they may have less impact on the retail shops, some say. “(Another) entertainment aspect would provide a destination for families and the community, but whether that will result in higher dollars per square foot remains to be seen,” said Brent Schoenbaum, senior manager for the consumer business practice at Deloitte & Touche. “Just bringing people into the mall doesn’t guarantee it will translate into incremental sales dollars.” Some merchants too, worry that the new visitors will pass them by on their way to an evening out, but the changes nonetheless offer a spark of hope. While the movie theaters have not been a big boost to retail sales, they have brought some customers into the stores. And, in places like Universal CityWalk, retail shops do reap the benefit of their entertainment neighbors, these retailers say. “Once they’re here, they enjoy walking around, and if they’re not going to purchase something right then and there, they’ll come back,” said Dori Warshaver, the owner of Mahogany Bay. Besides, Warshaver added, the late-night crowd the Promenade will attract gives the retail stores a niche other malls won’t have. “As there’s more here, I think traffic will increase and then I can see staying open late,” she said. “Every place closes up, so why not stay open? I think it will be a unique and interesting place.”

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