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SOUTHEAST AREA’S TOP 10 SHOPPING CENTERS : Isolated Whittwood Serves a ‘Captive,’ Loyal Clientele

Profiles on individual malls were written by Times staff writers Bettina Boxall and Michele Fuetsch, Photos are by Rick Corrales and Karen Tapia, Times staff photographers.

At first glance, the 32-year-old Whittwood Mall seems to be saddled with several ingredients that spell doom.

It is five miles from the 605 Freeway via traffic-clogged Whittier Boulevard, and four miles from the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5). When shoppers finally arrive on Whittier Boulevard, the main traffic artery through the heart of the area, they are greeted by the mall’s unattractive backside.

But Whittwood’s isolation is a mixed blessing.

Whittwood’s management acknowledges that the mall is not luring legions of shoppers from the freeways. At the same time, however, the limited access to freeways in the Whittier-La Habra area means that local shoppers are not likely to abandon the mall, with its dowdy exterior, run-of-the-mill stores and makeshift food court, for more attractive shopping centers elsewhere.

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“You can’t get in here, but, at the same time, you can’t get out either,” mall manager Diane Acosta said. “So, we have a real loyal customer base.”

“You’re trapped,” said Hank C. Cunningham, Whittier’s assistant city manager in charge of economic development. “It’s a captive audience.”

As a result, the mall remains an integral part of the city’s economy, demonstrating a staying power that helps explain why it has four anchor stores--JC Penney, Mervyn’s, Broadway and the Boston Store. Last year, Whittwood Mall’s 88 stores, restaurants and service centers generated almost $1 million in sales tax revenue for Whittier--accounting for 13% of the city’s sales tax revenue.

Cunningham points out that there are 400,000 people within the mall’s five-mile trade area and that the median family income in that area is more than $43,000, well above the Los Angeles County median income of $30,214. “It’s a fairly affluent area,” Cunningham said.

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The income levels and the land-locked clientele also help explain why an executive with a national mall development company said his firm tried unsuccessfully to buy Whittwood several years ago. With some sprucing up and aggressive retail strategies, Whittwood could increase its sales volume 50% to 100%, said the executive, who asked not to be named.

And Whittwood is sprucing up. Its owner, the Lusk Co. of Irvine, which built the mall in 1958, plans to give it a face lift, new signs and a refurbished entrance during the next few months, Acosta said. New restaurants are sprouting around the periphery of the mall, which takes up the large city block between Santa Gertrudes and Scott avenues.

A 10-screen theater, the first multiscreen movie house in the city, opened at the mall Thanksgiving weekend. “Initial indications are that the theaters are doing very well . . . and (they are) real important in keeping people in town,” Cunningham said.

WHITTWOOD MALL, WHITTIER* Year opened: 1958

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* Retail square footage: 872,800

* Anchor stores: Broadway, JC Penney, Mervyn’s, Boston Store

* Number of stores: 88

* 1989 sales tax paid to city: Estimated $945,000

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* % of city’s total sales tax revenue: 13%

* Most memorable feature: Dowdy, outdated architecture.


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