When the ABC television series “The Wonder Years” sought a local mall for its Christmas episode, Eastland in West Covina was No. 1 on the shopping list.
“It had the right feel for the period, the ‘60s and early ‘70s,” publicist Leslie Clark said.
There’s the wide, brass-banistered staircase at the southeast entry, and stores on the north side with street entrances as well as openings into the mall.
Period charm may be abundant, but customers are less so. Only a trickle traversed the main passage on a recent holiday shopping weeknight.
“There’s no good stores here that sell good quality clothes,” complained Haydee Perez, 16, of Diamond Bar.
Eastland’s glory has faded considerably since 1957, when the $57-million, 58-acre development on former orchard land was the prime shopping center of the eastern San Gabriel and Pomona valleys.
About 23% of the mall’s 70 specialty store spaces are empty. May Co. will move down the road to West Covina’s newer, larger, Plaza mall by fall, 1992. Mervyn’s is the other anchor. Mall managers admit the shopping center’s aging buildings need renovation.
The mall’s owner, May Centers Inc. of St. Louis, plans to save Eastland by making it a center of discount stores and high-volume sellers. Two of them, Marshall’s and Ross Dress for Less, are doing decently there already.
“This is a unique thing for us, and a unique thing in the industry,” said Randall Smith, director of research and corporate communications for May Centers. “Eastland will be more compatible with The Plaza than competitive.”
Eastland has been revived before, when its operators enclosed what was an open-air plaza in 1979. And just this year, the parking lot got a $3-million rehabilitation.
With a row of hotels and popular restaurants nearby, city officials and owners also are looking at plans to add a cinema complex to the mall.
EASTLAND SHOPPING CENTER WEST COVINA * Year opened: 1957
* Retail square footage: 740,000
* Anchor stores: May Co. and Mervyn’s
* Number of stores: 56
* Estimated 1989-90 sales tax paid to city: $877,101
* % of city’s sales tax revenue--10%
* Memorable feature: Nostalgia-inspiring ‘50s-era architectural touches.