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SOUTHEAST AREA’S TOP 10 SHOPPING CENTERS : 5-Year-Old Catch-22 Hurts Santa Fe Springs Stores

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

With only about 16,500 residents, a lot of oil wells and industry, Santa Fe Springs would not seem to be the most promising home for a shopping mall. But when a developer suggested that one be built next to an old Sears store, the city was interested enough to say yes and dig into its pockets to subsidize the project.

Five years after the Santa Fe Springs Mall opened, merchants still seem to be wondering whether the old oil town is a good place to set up shop. About a third of the mall’s stores are empty, many of them never leased. Boarded-up storefronts checker the enclosed one-story mall of stucco and cinder blocks at Telegraph and Carmenita roads at the eastern edge of the city.

“A lot of people aren’t coming to it because there’s not a lot in it,” remarked Suzi Royls, the manager of a women’s clothing store, noting that several small shops in the mall closed this year.

In a Catch-22, merchants are wary of the mall because there are not enough shoppers, and shoppers stay away because there aren’t enough shops, nor are there any big-name department stores.

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While conceding that it is taking longer than expected to lease the mall, Santa Fe Springs’ planning and development director, Bob Orpin, called the redevelopment project a moderate success that has emerged as the city’s major retail center.

It is part of the city’s campaign to expand its commercial base beyond the oil and heavy industry that Santa Fe Springs was long known for. New office and light industrial space has also been built in recent years, and the city gets most of its sales tax income from local wholesalers and distributors.

Designed with skylights and a tile walkway linking the shops, the mall draws customers from nearby cities such as Whittier and Pico Rivera. Indeed, nearly half a million people live within a few miles of the mall, which features mid-range and lower-end stores such as Target, Sears, Kinney Shoes, Casual Corner and Athlete’s Foot.

There are some “coming soon” signs scattered around the mall, and general manager Dean Itow said a recent leasing push by the mall’s owners, the Taubman Co. of Michigan, is paying off. A new eight-screen movie theater also opened last summer, drawing more people.

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“It’s looking up,” remarked Royls, the clothing store manager.

SANTA FE SPRINGS MALL, SANTA FE SPRINGS * Year opened: 1985

* Retail square footage: 450,210

* Anchor stores: Sears, Target

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* Number of stores: 74

* 1989 sales tax paid to city: Estimated $568,000

* % of city’s total sales tax revenue: 3%

* Most memorable feature: Eight-screen movie theater.

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