Everything's New but the Results : Retailing: The mall was renovated, a new anchor store was added, even the name was changed. But some merchants say they're still waiting for increased sales at the South Bay Pavilion at Carson.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, retailers at the South Bay Pavilion at Carson thought the $12.5-million renovation of the mall, which included the addition of an Ikea home furnishings store, would make their dreams of increased sales come true.

Ikea, mall operators said, would draw thousands more shoppers to a mall freshly painted with pastels and made more bright and airy with skylights.

"We were very enthusiastic about Ikea, it was a big hope for us," said Marie Touzjian, owner of Kojex Jewelers, which had not been doing well.

But a year later, there is no consensus whether the renovations and Ikea have helped merchants. At Kojex and some others stores, they are still waiting for the sweeping revival of the mall.

"Ikea is like a big ship that is sinking the mall," said the owner of Design Frames, who did not want his name used. "People just pass by now."

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Nevertheless, mall officials say its rebirth is on track.

They point to a 20% increase in sales over the past year. But the figure is a flat 3% if anchor stores Ikea, JC Penney and Sears are excluded.

The success of the mall is important to Carson because the city depends on sales tax revenue for income. Also, it loaned $8.6 million to developer Carson Mall Partners, which wooed Ikea, refurbished the shopping center and changed the name from Carson Mall to the South Bay Pavilion at Carson to broaden its appeal.

For the past 18 years, the 73-store, 70-acre mall has struggled to turn a profit. This was the first time the mall was renovated.

The sales increase was the first in three years, said mall manager Christopher J. Facas.

"We had hoped for (a) higher sales increase," Facas said, "but we did not expect the recession to last this long."

The 3% sales increase for the mall's non-anchor retailers is in line with figures for stores at other malls in the South Bay area, said Ted Lawson, a senior vice president and retail analyst for CB Commercial in Torrance.

Ikea, which at one time projected $50 million in sales a year, is drawing about 17,000 to 18,000 visitors to the store a week. The furniture chain declined to release its sales figures but said the Carson store, now one of five in the Los Angeles area, ranks second behind Burbank's.

Rene Hausler, president of Ikea U.S. West, said that over the past two weeks the Carson store's sales had exceeded projections by 15% to 20%.

Steve O'Keefe of Carson's redevelopment agency said state law prohibited him from releasing the tax revenue numbers on Ikea, a private company. But he said the store was now the fifth-largest source of revenue for the city.

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Among the other merchants at the mall, a mixed picture emerges on whether Ikea and the renovations have provided a boost. Some have clearly benefited, but others say their stores have yet to experience the brisk sales that were promised.

Yvonne Doyle, manager of Kids Mart, said sales at her store have increased about 25% over the past year.

Ikea's neighboring store, Big 5 Sporting Goods, said it has seen an increase in foot traffic of about 30% to 40%, and a "remarkable" increase in sales since Ikea moved in, said Chuck Kirk, a spokesman for the store.

Another store bordering Ikea, Paul Owen Shoes, has experienced a decrease in sales of about 5% since last year, said owner Jerry Owen.

Owen said he thinks his decrease in sales is due to the absence of the Broadway department store, which Ikea replaced.

"A lot of women who shopped at Broadway would come here to buy shoes. Now that Broadway has left, I have lost a lot of clients," Owen said.

At Jenny's Gifts Hallmark, employees said sales have been flat.

"Since the Persian Gulf War I have not seen any improvements," said Betty Hagen, an employee for nine years.

Several merchants in the mall think Ikea would help boost their sales if the store had cash registers closer to the entrance into the mall.

Shoppers cannot enter the mall directly from Ikea, which is laid out so that customers are steered through the entire store before leaving. They must exit Ikea and then go down a long corridor to reach the mall.

"A lot of customers have complained that the Ikea's entrance to the mall is not attractive," said Sharron King, a spokeswoman for the mall. "They describe it as a hospital-like corridor."

King said the mall and Ikea are working together to make Ikea's entrance to the mall more attractive. The plans include changing the decor and putting better signs along the corridor.

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