'Bella' weekend at outdoor center

Diane's Beachwear stands to turn a profit for the first time in its three years at Bella Terra, an outdoor shopping center in Huntington Beach.

Diane's manager Kati Garcia said the Black Friday and Small Business on Saturday event were a sign of how things have improved for her store and most of the others at the bustling shopping center.

"Everyone here was pretty packed," said Garcia, who's worked at the location for two years. "There were lines out the door for almost every store here. It was much bigger than last year.

"This is the best year we've ever had. Our first year we were literally in the negative, second year we were breaking even, and this year we're actually profitable."

While the numbers aren't in yet, Bella Terra property manager Candice Amigable said reports from the center's retailers indicated improvement from last year's Black Friday weekend. She credited it to an increased presence on social-network sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Huntington Beach retailers are also likely benefiting from a somewhat improved jobs climate in Orange County and growing consumer confidence nationwide.

Amigable said she expects an overall improvement this holiday season from last year. The center was undergoing construction for the new Costco, which opened May 2, and had to deal with more people going online to do their shopping in 2011.

"We definitely want to see an improvement from last year," Amigable said. "It made it tough for people to shop here because we were short on parking and people didn't want to deal with the construction. This year that's all gone so it should be no problem."

Opinions on shopper turnout weren't consistent across the board, though. Sole Candy manager Damian Pryor said "it didn't seem that busy" at the smaller shops last weekend. The turnout also didn't live up to Black Friday standards for Karin Bond, manager of Angl, a contemporary women's clothing store.

"It was steady but it wasn't as busy as I would expect on a Black Friday," Bond said. "It was like a busy weekend day, that kind of flow. We had good numbers, but it wasn't nearly as much as I was anticipating."

Bond and Pryor couldn't compare it to last year, though, as both started working at the Bella Terra shops in September and November, respectively.

Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau Communications manager Madison Fisher said part of Bella Terra's appeal to shoppers is a less stressful experience than those at South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island.

"Bella Terra has the big stores other malls have, but you don't have to deal with such huge crowds and there's actual parking," Fisher said. "It's a little more mellow."

While Bond wasn't blown away with last weekend's turnout, she's going into the holiday shopping season with high hopes.

"We're still not even in December, so I know some people wait to make their holiday purchases," she said. "Most of our crowd is still browsing and shopping for themselves. I don't know if the season has even really started."


Twitter: @TCNShortall

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