HOLIDAYS : Malls Make Timely Comeback : Many stores have completed quake recovery work to reopen in advance of the holiday season.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster writes regularly for The Times

If you haven't shopped much since last holiday season, you might be surprised at what you find--or don't find--at area malls. The Jan. 17 earthquake took its toll, and some malls, most notably Northridge Fashion Center, are still recovering.

Some have opened new stores in record numbers and still others in recent weeks have bulldozed through construction deadlines, reopening damaged anchor stores.

Northridge Fashion Center, considered by many as ground zero for the disaster, still has 200 stores closed, but The Broadway and Sears stores reopened earlier this month. Seven other businesses on the mall's periphery have been open since soon after the quake: Fidelity Federal, Coco's, Just Tires, Bank of America, Great Western Savings, Pizzeria Uno and Sears Auto Center. The Bullock's store is expected to open in August.

"The rest of the mall is scheduled to have a grand reopening on March 15," General Manager Lloyd Miller says. "We've been putting in seismic-upgraded columns and foundations and new skylights that run the entire length of the mall."

The mall's parking structures will open next year, beginning with the south structure in January, the east in March and the west in June. There is no opening date scheduled for the north structure.

While sales have plummeted at Northridge Fashion Center, other area malls, especially those farther away from the epicenter, have picked up the slack.

"Sales are up anywhere from 20% to 55% over last year," reports Louise Marquez, marketing director of Panorama Mall in Van Nuys. Woodland Hill's Promenade reports a 25% increase in sales in the same period.

Panorama Mall in Van Nuys was fully operable a day after the earthquake, except for The Broadway, which reopened in May. New stores added since the quake include GTE Phone Mart; Just for Kids, a children's used-clothing store; Town Style, a men's clothing store, and the Sunglass Source.

At The Promenade, the Saks Fifth Avenue store closed and is being replaced by the AMC Promenade 16 Theaters, due to open in October. New stores include Bath and Body, a women's toiletry shop, and Favoritz restaurant, which serves Continental cuisine and opened earlier this month.

Management at all area malls hope for increased buying in December, citing a healthier economy and extra cash now that many residents' disaster aid checks have arrived.

To accommodate and lure shoppers, some malls have taken the opportunity to rearrange or expand stores after the quake did its own remodeling.

At Topanga Plaza, the Robinsons-May, for example, reopened Nov. 10 with expanded housewares, consumer electronics and furniture departments.

"It's brand-new, inside and out," says Annette Bethers, marketing director. Also, Montgomery Ward reopened in September, and Mrs. Fields Cookies reopened earlier this month.

New stores include the Museum Company, which sells museum reproductions; Bare Escentuals, a skin and bath shop; Enzo Angiolini, a women's shoe shop; Bostonian, a men's clothing store, and a women's accessories shop called the Landau Collection. Two other stores are slated to open before January--Starbucks Coffee and Rampage, a women's fashion store.

What's missing at Topanga Plaza? Pastille, a women's clothing store, and Stride Rite Shoes have both closed during the past year.

The two Robinsons-May stores that reopened in July at Sherman Oaks Galleria were also updated, and merchandise has been rearranged. Men's apparel and home furnishings are found in one store and women's apparel is sold at the other. All other stores opened 11 days after the quake.

Ninety percent of the 140 shops at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square will be open by Christmas.

The Bullock's store reopened completely in October, after temporarily occupying the former I. Magnin store that closed before the quake. The Broadway reopened some of its departments in late June and was back in full swing by September.

The heavily damaged parking structure, which reopened in stages, became fully operable Nov. 1. The square's sales have been down about 30%, Vice President Brian Pickering says, "but we expect a great Christmas."

Reopened stores are too numerous to list, but brand-new shops include three women's fashion stores--Rampage, Susie Tompkins and 818 Freight--and a girls' clothing store called Friends. Benetton, Guess and Ann Taylor have opened and The Gap plans to before Christmas.

After the New Year, look for the grand opening of Banana Republic and the Body Shop, a skin care and bath shop. Bebe, high-end women's fashions, and Baby Guess will both expand operations after Jan. 1.

Here's the shopping status at other area malls:

* The Fallbrook Mall will open three new anchor stores--Ralphs grocery store, K mart and Burlington Coat Factory, selling men's and women's apparel, by the summer. (The Ralphs across the street at Fallbrook Avenue and Victory Boulevard will close.) The now-vacated Sears will soon open an outlet store in the vacant Builders Emporium space across the street on Victory.

New stores include Famous Footwear, a family shoe store. Mall management is negotiating with a number of restaurants. Stores that closed include Clothestime, Jarman Shoes and Nintendo video games.

* At Glendale Galleria, 264 shops and five department stores opened the day after the quake, but the west parking structure suffered moderate damage. It reopened Nov. 15.

The Galleria's new stores include several restaurants: Wazwan of India; Ruby's, a '50s diner; Crocodile Express, serving Italian cuisine; Auntie Anne's, a pretzel shop; Cleo & Cucci, serving continental cuisine; Surf City Squeeze, a juice bar, and Monterey Pasta.

Other new stores include a stamp store named Stamp Stamp Stamp; KCET Store of Knowledge; San Rio Surprises, which sells toys and gifts; FAO Schwarz Toy Store; the Franklin Mint; Optical Fashion Center; Merle Norman Makeup; Christopher Ranch, a gourmet food store; Creation Sci Fi, which sells "Star Trek" memorabilia; 1928 Vintage Shop, which sells vintage clothing and jewelry; the Museum Company, which sells museum reproductions; the Body Shop, and First Issue, a women's apparel shop.

Eighteen other stores relocated or have been remodeled in the past year.

* Laurel Plaza in North Hollywood reports that the mall will be demolished after Jan. 1, except for anchor store Robinsons-May.

* Media City Center in Burbank has added On the Earth, a women's accessory shop, and Steve's Ice Cream. All stores opened within one day after the quake.

* Antelope Valley Mall in Palmdale added Victoria's Secret, a women's lingerie shop, and Video Concept, a video and movie memorabilia store, in September. Bath and Body reopened earlier this month.

* Valencia Town Center's stores opened within a week of the quake and the mall has since added Eddie Bauer, the Disney Store, Pretzel Time, Lisa's Beauty Supply, the Lollipop Tree (children's clothing), Vans Shoes, Hickory Farms and Maternite by Mothers Work, a maternity wear store.

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