What's a draw for L.A. shoppers? Two words: free parking.

In the face of what some retailers feared would be the worst holiday shopping season in living memory due to the economy, retailers are making a hit with this special offer.

The Beverly Center mall offered free all-day parking with no purchase required in its five-level structure for the first time on Black Friday and drew 1,000 more cars than it had at the same time last year.

"It was huge for us," said Susan Vance, marketing director for the mall. "We saw an increase of 12 percent over last year and turned our lot five or six times."

Vance said many mall retailers met last year's post-Thanksgiving sales and some even doubled sales, but overall the mall saw single-digit increases over last year.

Nearby West Third Street organized a holiday block party shopping event Dec. 4, and the area's business association offered free valet service, giving shoppers the chance to leave their cars at one of eight valet spots along West Third Street between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue and retrieving them at the same valet station or any other.

The service was such a hit that it's being offered every weekend until Christmas.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," said Jackie Fernandez, a retail analyst with Deloitte & Touche LLP in Los Angeles. "Any type of promotion or extra customer service-oriented activity that's money-saving will draw people in, and free parking is a savings right away."

Out of the Bag

Many Los Angeles County retailers, grocery stores and municipalities have teamed up with Heal the Bay and other environmental groups to participate in the second annual "A Day Without a Bag" event on Thursday.

All county locations of 99 Cents Only Stores, Ralphs and Whole Foods will give reusable tote bags to shoppers with a minimum purchase set by each store.

Shoppers can also receive free bags at other grocery stores around the county, some Bed Bath & Beyond stores, Fred Segal Santa Monica, all four branches of the Santa Monica Public Library and various city halls, among other locations.

City of Commerce-based 99 Cents Only Stores, which also participated in last year's event, is giving away its own branded canvas totes with a minimum $29.99 purchase. That dollar amount was chosen to draw in more customers. For comparison, Whole Foods' and Bed Bath & Beyond's minimum purchase prices is $50, said Eric Schiffer, 99 Cents Only Stores chief executive.

"Where we feel we can help is to promote awareness of environmental issues to a much broader demographic than a store like Whole Foods," he said.

But it's not just altruistic. Schiffer said his company could save "several million dollars" if it could do away with plastic bags altogether.

"So we're promoting the reusable bags and discouraging double bagging," he said.

Bringing in Retail

Results of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District's third demographic survey will likely show that people who live and work in the area want to see a Trader Joe's and Target.

The survey, which district officials will use to convince mainstream retailers to open downtown, was in the past open only to downtown residents. This year, the BID allowed people who work and attend events in the area to participate, bumping the number of responses to more than 10,000 from 1,000 two years ago.

"We are absolutely stupefied at the response," said Carol Schatz, president of the BID.

Previous survey results, which showed the average new downtown resident makes at least $100,000 a year, convinced supermarket chain Ralphs to open a higher-end Fresh Fare store there last year.

The results will be released by early February.

News & Notes

Westfield Century City mall is offering a dog-sitting service for holiday shoppers. The pooch promotion is tied to the movie "Hotel for Dogs." U.K. fine-food retailer Fortnum & Mason is making a push into the United States by selling its wares at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills. This follows the launch of its U.S. Web site in April.

Staff reporter Maya Meinert can be reached at meinert@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 228.

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