Like jittery actors preparing for the adrenaline rush of opening night, the staff of the quake-battered Northridge Fashion Center spent Friday unpacking merchandise and putting other finishing touches on the mall scheduled to open next week.
Between 70 and 80 of approximately 180 stores are expected to be ready when the doors open at 10 a.m. Monday, but marketing director Annette Bethers said that should not discourage eager shoppers from taking a look at the newly rebuilt shopping center.
"We don't want to disappoint anyone" because there are still shuttered stores, but enough work has been completed that "we want them to see the mall in all of its beauty," she said.
She added that a grand reopening celebration is scheduled Aug. 2, when about 110 stores are expected to be open.
On Friday, the mall's marbled corridors reverberated to a cacophony of saws, hammers, drills--and the seemingly ubiquitous Muzak channel--as workers toiled over a myriad of cosmetic construction jobs. Inside many stores, retailers were busy stocking shelves with goods ranging from lingerie and T-shirts to books and software.
Linda Turner, regional vice president of Ann Taylor, a tony women's clothing boutique, said she was feeling "very good, very confident" about the mall's return.
"We could open tomorrow," she said.
At the Body Shop, workers cooled their heels while waiting for the delicately scented body lotions and bath gels that would fill the empty shelves.
"Our truck is late," manager Tonya McShane explained.
She said employees would spend the rest of the weekend pricing items and placing them on the store's newly built fixtures.
Would they finish by Monday?
"We have to," she said.
Bethers said shoppers should expect to see a "brand-new" Northridge Fashion Center come Monday, a retail center filled with numerous additions such as a 25,000-square-foot food court and a ceiling made almost entirely of (shatterproof) skylights.
And there will be plenty of parking. Although the center's three parking structures were demolished after the quake and only two were rebuilt, Bethers said that one was made slightly larger to maintain the same number of spaces that existed before the temblor.
Inside the Broadway, which reopened in November, shopper Steve Corvi said he was looking forward to the mall's reopening and is grateful to be able to shop in his own neighborhood again.
"It'll be nice not to have to travel so far," he said.
For Corvi, the very fact that the mall can recover from the devastation of Jan. 17, 1994, is a positive symbol.
"It's . . . a completion of the healing after the quake," he said.
Shawna Friedman, 17, a frequent shopper at the center before the quake, cracked that she's been suffering from "mall withdrawal" during its closure.
Peering at construction taking place beyond the Broadway's archway, she said she's eager to explore the mall's new touches but jokingly wondered why some of the workers were still wearing hard hats.
"Hopefully they made it stronger so it won't fall on me."