Shoppers flock downtown

Each season that the semiannual Barneys New York Warehouse Sale comes to the Los Angeles area, it poses several philosophical questions:

Is a $545 dress worth $545 just because it's been marked down from $1,800? No, according to one shopper, who put it back.

Is it OK to deprive a toddler of his morning nap so he will snooze in his stroller while his mother shops? Indeed, said one multi-tasking parent.

This summer, the Warehouse Sale, held for the last 14 years in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, changed mother ships and landed in the Los Angeles Convention Center, provoking another question: Would Westside devotees of high-end fashion leave their comfort zone and venture east? Could they even find the Convention Center? The answers: Yes, and eventually.

With equal parts guilt -- a $545 dress -- and giddiness -- an $1,800 Lanvin dress marked down to $545 -- shoppers arrived at the opening day of the Barneys Warehouse Sale on Thursday, even though they had to pay $12 for parking, which was free at the Santa Monica Airport, and navigate the meandering expanse of the Convention Center.

Not all were happy to traipse east from the Westside. "I live in the Marina, I never come downtown," grumbled a 65-year-old man clutching dress shirts and Prada shoes who refused to give his full name. "I don't even remember where my car is, I'm so confused."

And then there was finding the hall in the Convention Center where the sale was. "This place is so gargantuan, and it's early," said Brenna Egan.

The sale opens at 8 a.m. the first two days, and early birds usually get the best handbags and jeans. But for Egan, who lives in Carthay Circle, the hunt was worth the drive. She proudly displayed an Yves St. Laurent top on sale for $424, down from $1,400.

"I'm willing to go the extra mile, the extra 10 miles, for 75% off," she said.

At least one Warehouse Sale habituee headed toward the airport Thursday morning before realizing her mistake and reversing course. "It's a bit of a shock," said 20-year-old Laura Griffith.

According to Warehouse event manager Lynn Williams, Barneys advertised the sale's new location and put it on the website.

There is also a sign at the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport informing shoppers that the sale has moved downtown, she said.

"It's such a tradition to have it in the hangar," Williams said. "Our hope is that we continue to keep all our customers from the Westside and capture new customers."

They did get the fashion-forward who live east and eschewed the sale when it was perched far west.

Rebecca Russ, an actress-bartender and self-styled downtown hipster, said she walked from her loft. "I'll bet I'm the only girl here with a Mohawk," said Russ, 23.

Christine Lennon said she had avoided the sale until it moved downtown, closer to her Hancock Park home.

"It's already such a hassle to be here. You're in this bizarre vortex of people and shoes," said Lennon, 39, who estimated that the drive from her home to Santa Monica would have been 45 minutes.

The company moved the sale to the Convention Center, Williams said, because "it's about 30% larger and we've got 30% more merchandise." Barneys New York does not publicly report sales figures.

Earlier in the year, analysts surmised that the company was suffering as much as other luxury retailers in the recession.

However, Williams attributed the increase in merchandise to growth: "We've got more stores," she said.

The company also assumed that shoppers would pay for parking.

"I think the amenities more than make up for it," Williams said.

Shoppers at the old location had to endure outdoor portable toilets and bravely strip down to try on clothes in the middle of the aisles, men sometimes next to women. At the Convention Center, shoppers have indoor plumbing and two curtained-off communal dressing rooms: one for men, one for women. Yet most were changing in the aisles.

"It's still more comfortable to change out here instead of with 800 people crowded around one mirror," said Jason Ott, 27, an actor and waiter, as he donned a brown T-shirt. "Too big?"

Mara Klein, 23, also an actor-waiter and Ott's girlfriend, glanced up from the dress she was trying on. "Too big," she confirmed.

The sale continues through Aug. 23 at the Convention Center, South Hall K.


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