A Run for Their Money : Expanded Plaza Mall Hopes to Raid Competition's Customers

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It may be the middle of a recession, but you'd never know it at the Plaza in West Covina.

Shoppers will get their first look today at a brightly decorated, new wing lined with palm trees that includes a Robinsons-May department store and dozens of retail shops. The mall's owners are hoping that the $100 million poured into the expansion will reel in east San Gabriel Valley customers who have been shopping elsewhere.

The 250,000-square-foot, two-level wing contains space for 50 shops, about 40 of which open today. The 150,000-square-foot Robinsons-May, which replaces the May Co. store that closed in January at the Eastland Shopping Center in West Covina, opened Wednesday.

More than 400 jobs have been created by the new shops, mall officials said.

Construction began more than two years ago after the owner of the 19-year-old mall, St. Louis-based CenterMark Properties, set out to capture more upper-middle-class shoppers.

Mall managers say their studies have shown that customers with annual household incomes of $45,000 or more were shopping at nearby malls that had a variety of upscale shops. The mall wants to attract more residents from Glendora, San Dimas, Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights.

"The studies showed we were convenient for them but weren't offering the right mix of stores," said Tracey Gotsis, the mall's marketing director.

The expansion puts the Plaza's total square footage at 1.2 million square feet, about the same size as the Puente Hills Mall in Industry and Montclair Plaza in San Bernardino County.

The entire mall has been redecorated floor to ceiling, inside and out.

Old carpeting was ripped up and replaced with porcelain and French limestone tiles.

The mall has been brightened with more lighting, and the interior has been given warmer colors with fresh coats of orange and yellow paint.

And designers transformed the center's cream-colored subdued look with murals of the sun and images of sunflowers.

"Our goal was to create some personality in the shopping center--to distinguish ourselves from the other centers," said Larry Costello, the center's development director.

CenterMark hopes the new look and new stores will help the mall steal thousands of customers from neighboring malls, particularly Puente Hills Mall and Montclair Plaza.

But those malls say they don't expect to be seriously hurt by the extra competition.

"Initially there will be a curiosity factor and some of our customers will go to the Plaza at West Covina to see the new expansion," said Clair Griffith, manager of the Puente Hills Mall, which at 1.2 million square feet was the largest in the valley until the Plaza expanded.

"It may have some effect on us--it may keep some of our shoppers from their market area from coming out here," said Nina Pruitt, marketing manager for Montclair Plaza.

Competition is tough these days. Sales at most Southern California malls have taken a nose dive over the last few years. In a fight for customers, nearly all of the local malls have sunk millions into renovation or expansion since 1990.

The Plaza at West Covina hopes its new lineup of shops will spark brisk sales this holiday season, helping to stem a three-year downward trend in total mall sales. The center had sales of about $130 million in 1990, compared with about $115 million last year.

To shore up its sales, the Santa Anita Fashion Park in Arcadia is undergoing a $35-million expansion that is scheduled to open in August. A new Nordstrom and about 20 more specialty stores will expand the mall to 1.2 million square feet. That mall is also trying to capture higher-income shoppers that are leaving the valley to shop at the Glendale Galleria.

West Covina officials say the new wing at the Plaza will eventually bring in millions of dollars in sales tax revenue. Mall officials have estimated that the new Robinsons-May and specialty stores will generate an additional $1.1 million in annual sales tax revenue for the city by 1995 and $1.6 million by 1998.

However, for the next 30 years the city will be using nearly all of the sales tax and some of the property tax generated by the mall's new wing to pay off $45 million in bonds that the city's redevelopment agency sold four years ago to fund a portion of the expansion--property acquisition, relocation of tenants and public improvements.

Retail consultants say the expansion was a good move even in the recession because it will help the mall maintain its share of the marketplace.

"The stores may not be explosive out of the blocks but in the long run (the expansion) could be the wisest move in the world. That mall has terrific freeway location, and if you're going to spend money on this sort of thing that's the place to do it," said Paul Garity, a real estate consultant with the KPMG Peat Marwick accounting firm in Los Angeles.

Dick Carter, senior retail sales associate at Beitler Commercial Real Estate, said the Plaza's expansion is overdue. There is plenty of disposable income in the conservative and established communities of the San Gabriel Valley to be captured by the right lineup of upscale retail shops, he said.

"The Plaza's customers have never had a one-stop shopping center--a mall of the '90s--and this expanded center offers them that," Carter said.

New Stores at the Plaza

Department stores

* Robinsons-May

Men's apparel

* De Monet

* Structure

Men's and women's

specialty apparel

* The Alternative

* Eddie Bauer

* Merry Go Round

* The Gap

* Western Trading Post

Women's apparel

* Casual Corner

* Charlotte Russe

* Express

* Forever 21*

* Georgiou

* Petite Sophisticate

* The Limited

* Victoria's Secret*

Shoes and athletic wear

* Pro Image

Gifts, cards, books,

stationery and novelties

* Carlton Cards

* San Rio Surprises

* Things Remembered

Health and beauty

* The Body Shop

* Garden Botanika

Home entertainment

and electronics

* Electronics Boutique

* GTE Phonemart

Home furnishings

* The Bombay Co.

Housewares

* This End Up

Fine jewelry

* Friedlanders

* Gordon's Jewelers

* Robbins Brothers Jewelers*

* Victoria's Jewelers

Costume jewelry

* Carimar

Family and children's shoes

* Wild Pair

Women's shoes

* Dolcis

Food services

* Cinnabon

* Coffee Bean

* Haagen-Dazs

* Mr. Bulky*

* The Original Cookie Co.

* Pretzel Time

Restaurants

* Sorabol

Specialty stores

* Kensington Luggage*

* Record Town

* Ritz Camera

* Saturday Matinee

* Sunglass Hut

* Suri Suede and Leather

Special services

* Expressly Portraits

* Glamour Shots

* L.A. Nails*

* Opening winter, 1994

Changes in Store

A $100-million renovation and expansion of the Plaza at West Covina--including a new Robinsons-May department store and about 40 retail shops--is aimed at luring more San Gabriel Valley shoppers to the center and boosting sales-tax revenue to the city.

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