Westfield Santa Anita

Westfield Santa Anita Mall is hosting its first ever Lunar New Year festival, hanging a 120-foot, 600-pound red-and-gold dragon installation above its indoor carousel. (Westfield Santa Anita)

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The arrival of the Lunar New Year this month seems to have sparked an epiphany for area shopping centers: Asian and Asian American consumers have a growing pile of money and want to spend it where they're welcome.

So in the Year of the Snake, malls around the Southland are hustling harder to make themselves more appealing to the demographic.

Desert Hills Premium Outlets, Ontario Mills and the Outlets at Orange are partnering on a "Snaking through Southern California" initiative to lure Chinese shoppers to their malls. Simon Property Group, which owns the centers, says it's attempting to market to Asian consumers with multilingual messaging and Lunar New Year decorations.

Many stores in South Coast Plaza now have Asian employees to cater to the influx of moneyed tourists from China, Japan and South Korea who flock to the upscale mall. The center also has a language-assistance program and maps in Asian languages.

Westfield Santa Anita in Arcadia, a city where more than half the population is Asian/Asian American, is hosting its first-ever Lunar New Year festival Saturday afternoon. Free activities include a lion dance, Chinese calligraphy demonstrations and a Year of the Snake photo booth for families.

The San Gabriel Valley center hung a 120-foot, 600-pound red-and-gold dragon installation above its indoor carousel. Decorators brought in a Chinese pagoda as well as kumquat trees for good luck.

Even after the holiday, Westfield plans to continue tweaking the Santa Anita mall -- currently home to Nordstrom, AMC Theatres, Macy’s and more -- to better suit its Asian American clientele.

This summer, Hai Di Lao, a hot-pot restaurant chain based in China's Sichuan province, is to open its first U.S. location at the center. Beijing-based eatery Meizhou Dongpo is also scheduled to move in, in early 2014.

The mall already offers some store directories in Chinese.

The revamps could have a major economic payoff. Government projections peg 2013 as a record year for Chinese tourism to the United States. A report from Nielsen this past fall showed Asian American buying power surging over $1 trillion within five years, from $718.4 billion in 2012.

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