Barker Bros. to Fill Big South Coast Village Gap : Merchandising: The Pasadena-based furniture chain will make the Mercantile Building, empty for six years, its flagship.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The largest single space in South Coast Plaza Village, which has been empty for almost six years, has finally found a tenant.

Plaza officials said Monday that Barker Bros. Furniture, an 11-store chain based in Pasadena, will move into the 35,000-square-foot Mercantile Building and make the outlet its flagship.

The long-empty building had earned the shopping plaza--which is across the street from mammoth South Coast Plaza--the nickname "South Ghost Village."

The Mercantile Building had formerly housed more than 20 small specialty shops, but in recent years has been used by community groups, most often free of charge, for events such as the Santa Ana Car Parade reception, said David Grant, general manager of the Village.

Grant said he expects the mid-priced furniture store to be the main attraction for shoppers. It's "a destination retailer," he said.

The Village also is home to several well-known and regarded restaurants and some small retailers. In April, H.G. Daniels Co., a supplier of materials to artists, architects and engineers, opened a store there.

"We think it's great," said Elizabeth MacVean, manager of the 6,000-square-foot H.G. Daniels in Santa Ana. "We're glad to have another merchant in there to attract people to the center."

She said her company was not nervous about moving into a plaza despite vacancies in some stores because the 50-year-old supplier has built a reputation among its customers in Los Angeles and San Diego.

Grant said some smaller spaces remain vacant at the Village.

This is the second Santa Ana location for Barker Bros., which has been in business for 110 years. The mix of furniture is eclectic, with an emphasis on California casual, "oriented to out-of-doors," Grant said.

Barker Bros. carries furniture made by Henrendon, Baker, Century, Bernhardt, Thomasville, Sherrill, Ralph Lauren, Chapman, Marlboro and Marge Carson. The showrooms also carry an exclusive line of furniture called Alexander Warren, Village officials said.

Grant said that he has been negotiating with various companies for the space at the 17-year-old shopping center. He said he was looking for one large tenant because the climate in Southern California has become too competitive in recent years for groups of small stores to do well.

"You have to be the best in the business," he said. "A lot of people out there are struggling."

Grant would not reveal the terms of the lease. He said the interior of the building will be renovated before Barker Bros. moves in, sometime during the last three months of this year.

The lack of traffic at the plaza has prompted criticism of the center's management. Several former tenants have sued the owner, the Segerstrom family, for failing to promote the shopping center and allowing it to play second fiddle to South Coast Plaza across the street, which is the largest mall in terms of sales in the West.

The Segerstroms maintained that the 14-acre center suffered as much from the shortcomings of its former tenants as from any other factor.

"Hallelujah," said Dennis Murray, manager of Gamesmanship, when he heard that the Mercantile Building space was being filled. Gamesmanship, which sells chess sets and board games, was one of the last tenants there and moved only after it was offered a space at South Coast Plaza, Murray said.

"The big problem was not enough walk-through traffic," Murray said. "Like in any shopping center, you need people to stumble on your store."

He said he wishes the Village well but that he would not go back. "Everybody wants to be in South Coast Plaza, regardless of what they're intending to do in the Village," he said.

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