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Buffums Plans to Dust Off Its Old Image With Remodelings and New Store Sites

Times Staff Writer

Buffums--an old-line department store chain with a dowager image--has launched an expansive program of remodeling and planned store openings, a company executive said Wednesday.

The Long Beach-based chain is actively looking to build new stores “in any good site,” said Gary Somes, a Buffums vice president. It has “talked to people” about opening a new store in the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties and would like to open another south of Laguna Hills, he said.

What’s more, a $1-million renovation has just been completed at the Westminster store and a $1.5-million face-lift is under way at Buffums in Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Remodeling is scheduled to begin in January at the Arcadia Buffums. And “depending on whether we get a new store” in 1988, Buffums may remodel its stores in Laguna Hills and San Diego as well, Somes said.

La Habra Store Sold

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Part of the money will come from the recently completed sale of Buffums’ 20-year-old store at La Habra Fashion Square. That site was sold to Newport Beach-based Hopkins Development for about $5 million in cash.

Somes said that Buffums’ parent, David Jones Ltd. of Australia, “feels there’s potential” for the chain and has “more of an interest in developing the company.”

That interest is a far cry from reports last October that the 84-year-old company was on the auction block for a reported $40 million. At the time, several developers were said to be interested in acquiring all or part of the chain, which for years has suffered from a dusty, old-fashioned image of catering to older clients.

But Somes said Wednesday that Buffums’ parent company is “committed to go ahead . . . do remodels and is looking for new store sites.”

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Part of the reason is the successful Buffums store in Solana Beach, which opened last October, Somes said. In Westminster, Buffums has seen double-digit sales increases since finishing its remodeling in August, he added.

First Transformation

With the face-lift, the Westminster store became the latest in Buffums’ chain to transform itself from a dimly lit store trimmed with dark wood and floral wallpaper.

Instead, the store--like its sisters in Glendale, La Canada, Solana Beach and soon Newport Beach--has enhanced lighting in a beige color scheme with lots of bleached wood, marble floors and tile walkways. Well-defined aisles steer customers back toward merchandise and electronics and housewares have made way for expanded accessories and cosmetics departments.

Buffums’ sale in La Habra paves the way for Hopkins to begin transforming the sleeper La Habra Fashion Square into a “high-volume, cash register-ringing, promotional center” anchored by mid-priced stores, said Jeff Armour, Hopkins’ senior project manager.

With that goal in mind, Hopkins bought most of the 37-acre Fashion Square in January.

Now that the Buffums sale is in escrow, Hopkins is trying to buy the Bullock’s store at La Habra.

Current employees at the La Habra Buffums will be offered positions elsewhere in the chain.

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