It all began 33 years ago in Redondo Beach.
That’s when what is believed to be the South Bay’s first major suburban shopping center, the South Bay Center, opened its doors to the public at the corner of Hawthorne and Artesia boulevards.
The center, remodeled and reincarnated six years ago as the Galleria at South Bay, now has plenty of company.
Counting the Galleria, there are six major malls in the South Bay, each mirroring to some degree the communities around it. The smallest is the Shops at Palos Verdes, a puny 385,000 square feet when compared to Numero Uno: the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance.
Measuring in at 3 million square feet, Del Amo is not only the largest mall in Los Angeles County, it also ranks among the largest in the world. If you include its 13,000 parking spaces, the mall is about the size of 32 football fields.
If the six malls have a common thread, it is that they are always changing, always “re-merchandising” by booting out stores that don’t work and replacing them with stores that do.
“I remember one store in particular that sold these great big square hats,” Galleria manager Duane Bishop said. “Well, when was the last time you saw a woman from Redondo Beach in a great big square hat?”
Of course, each mall has taken on its own character, and each reflects its immediate environs.
Pricey Italian-made men’s clothing moves briskly at the Galleria, which is situated near the beach cities and the BMW crowd. On the moneyed but more staid and family-oriented Palos Verdes Peninsula, parents drop their children off for ice-skating lessons at the Shops at Palos Verdes while they buy fancy kitchen gadgets at Williams-Sonoma.
At the Manhattan Village Shopping Center, hungry shoppers can dine on $29 veal chops marinated in red chili pesto at the four-star restaurant St. Estephe.
In the middle-class city of Hawthorne, visitors to the Hawthorne Plaza can buy a new pair of shoes and also get job counseling from state employment officials. And at the Carson Mall, where $200 parkas bearing the insignia of sports teams are hot items, shoppers can find out what it takes to become a deputy sheriff. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has set up a full-time recruitment center at the mall.
Just how many people visited the six malls last year is unknown. Not all of the centers keep tabs, although Carson Mall officials estimate that in recent years, an average of 30,000 people a week have stopped by their emporium.
It’s also unknown how many retired people get their daily dose of exercise by walking the centers’ promenades, how many people regularly dine on fast food served up at food courts, or how many people go to malls just to hang out and watch others--a pastime known as malling. But in each case, the imprecise answer is: plenty.
“A lot of people you see in the malls aren’t there to buy things,” said David Stewart, a consumer psychologist and USC professor. “The mall has become in some ways a substitute for other forms of entertainment, for other forms of fantasy.”
“I think a couple before they get married ought to go malling together,” he added. “It’s an opportunity to exchange notes. Whatever you see in a mall is a stimulus for discussion.”
Together, the South Bay malls have a total of 902 stores and occupy about 6.5 million square feet. They racked up nearly $976.9 million in taxable sales last year, or about $147 in sales per square foot.
According to several local mall managers, that money probably wasn’t spent on the trendy or flashy goods you might expect to show up in a Westside merchant’s display window one week, and be gone the next.
“The South Bay area is thirsty for high-end retail,” Bishop said, “but they want it on the traditional side. Melrose-type retail won’t work here. I think the South Bay customer is a little more conservative.”
Will there be more malls built in the South Bay? Perhaps, but Sarah Stack, a retail analyst with the stock brokerage firm Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards, says the country has more than enough malls already.
Stack said there is twice as much retail space per capita today than there was 15 years ago. The ‘80s were characterized by retail expansion, but the ‘90s will be marked by insolvencies and restructuring, she said.
“The boom times are over in terms of mall growth,” Stack said. “We have reached the Pacific. We have reached the frontier.”
But the ones here are not about to disappear.
Said Del Amo founder Guilford Glazer:"The malls are here forever.”
Taxable retail sales reported in 1989 by each of the major shopping centers in the South Bay, and how that figure ranked among the county’s 45 largest malls:
Mall Sales Rank Del Amo Fashion Center $444,658,000 1 Galleria at South Bay $215,094,000 8 Carson Mall $92,792,000 22 Manhattan Village Center $90,984,000 23 Hawthorne Plaza $88,214,000 25 Shops at Palos Verdes $45,268,000 37
Average sales per square foot for each mall, derived by dividing taxable retail sales by total retail area:
Galleria at South Bay: $226
Manhattan Village: $212
Del Amo Fashion Center: $148
Shops at Palos Verdes: $118
Carson Mall: $107
Hawthorne Plaza: $105
Source: State Board of Equalization and individual malls