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Shoppers Stumped : Radical Surgery on Shedding Olive Trees Causes Consternation at The Grove Center

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The mall manager winced when the word “chop” was used to describe the action taken against eight graceful old olive trees this week.

“We didn’t chop them down. We shortened them,” Arthur Ross said. “They may be stumps now, but they will grow back as shrubs.”

But the sight of the sap-bleeding stumps evoked a sense of environmental indignation among many a mall shopper and proprietor at The Grove center on the southeast corner of Tampa Avenue and Nordhoff Street in Northridge. These folks thought their mall was special because it had trees.

“Wasn’t it just Earth Day? I can’t believe they were so insensitive,” said Jay Goldenberg, a coffee bean store owner.

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“If I had known they were going to do this, I would have chained myself to a tree,” manicurist Debi Thompson said. “Now we look like every other mall in the Valley.”

In the San Fernando Valley, home to look-alike indoor malls, strip malls, mini-malls, malls where every square foot of earth is usually covered by store space or parking space, the olive trees at The Grove were something of a novelty, some said.

They provided shade for a few cars, a refreshing view for restaurant diners. They reminded Greek restaurant owner Alex Kavvadias of the old country.

“In Greece, people would be begging for olive trees like these,” he said. “An olive tree for me is like a life.

“These trees produced olives, big olives,” he said, shaping his fingers into the size of a quarter.

Olives so tempting that Kavvadias said he harvested about 100 pounds of them a year, seasoned them, cured them and ate them.

The problem is, though, that the olives fell and splattered deep purple juice on cars. They stained sidewalks. That made the fruits of the trees a liability. The trees were converted to shrubs for safety reasons, Ross said.

What’s more, the wide branches obscured the view of the mall from busy Tampa Avenue.

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“Visibility, high street visibility is important,” said Ross, who is in charge of a $10-million mall renovation that is transforming a rustic-looking neighborhood shopping center into a flashy regional mall complete with Southwestern pink and turquoise paint.

“I’m kind of glad to see all those trees go,” said Stephan Steinberg, owner of a recently expanded hobby store. “Now we have double the exposure and a clean new ambience. Before, you would drive down the street and it looked like a tree grove over here.”

Indeed, some store owners wonder how the shopping center can continue to call itself The Grove anymore. But Ross can explain the new name.

“Technically, a grove can mean more than one thing,” he said. “Like it could be a grove of stores.”

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