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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Century City Construction Cuts Into Retail Traffic, Sales

The mood at the Westfield Century City shopping mall is anything but jolly.

Compounding the traffic hassles resulting from the $68 million Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction, a $127 million renovation effort undertaken by mall owner Westfield America Inc. has made navigating an already complicated floor plan even more challenging.

The promise of improvements has done little to assuage retailers suffering the resulting loss of pre-holiday sales.

“We’ve been with the center for 29 years and we’ve never had a slow period like this,” said Aram Kalousdian, co-owner of Arva Jewelers. October sales were down 50 percent to 60 percent compared to the year earlier, far more significant than the 25 percent decline the store had anticipated, Kalousdian said.

While each of the stores in a random survey last week reported lower year-over-year October sales, Kalousdian’s experience appeared to be the most extreme.

Westfield Century City Marketing Director Najla Tabbah denied that the mall was experiencing a decline in sales. “We’re doing well,” she said. “We’re not suffering at all.”

Tabbah declined to provide specifics sales figures and referred questions regarding sales to Westfield Group’s U.S. headquarters, which did not return calls.

Feeling less of a pinch was Aveda, where business was off about 2 percent from the year earlier. Sales at shoe store Aldo declined 10 percent in October compared to the year-ago-period, according to Assistant Manager Jason Azali, while Ann Taylor experienced a 20 percent drop-off, according to a manager.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art store reported a drop in foot traffic but declined to disclose how sales have been affected. BCBG Max Azria and Foot Locker also reported unspecified sales declines.

Besides lower sales, the construction is causing other problems.

“Customers are a little irritated and we don’t have as many as we usually have,” said Sebrina Bow, lead adviser on Aveda’s three-person management team. “Even for employees, it’s sometimes challenging to get to work. I’ll plan on taking Olympic and it’s totally backed up, and Santa Monica is pretty much out of the question.”

Indeed, finding a route into the mall can be a challenge, with construction of the office building at 2000 Avenue of the Stars and “traffic calming” measures that limit access to Motor Avenue from Pico Boulevard contributing to the overall congestion.

“That area was always congested as is it’s a high-residential, high-work area,” said Jackie Fernandez, a partner in the consumer business group at Deloitte & Touche. “Even without the construction, getting in and getting out is problematic. Couple that with construction and a lot more rain than we had anticipated, and that makes going to the mall more of a chore and people may think twice about it.”

The Santa Monica Boulevard Transit Parkway Project, which involves reconfiguring 2.5 miles of the boulevard between the San Diego (405) Freeway and Moreno Drive and merging the “little” and “big” Santa Monica boulevards, is six months behind schedule. Planned as a two-year project to be completed in the fall of 2005, it is now expected to end in spring 2006, which means it will affect another holiday season.

The mall renovation, too, may extend into the next holiday season.

Interior work began in April and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2005. Changes include the addition of 63,000 square feet of retail space, including the creation of a second level, and new spaces for Apple, the Container Store, Gap and Baby Gap, Papyrus, Limited Too and Swarovski. Other major changes include reconfiguration of the Gelson’s Market and a new 15-screen AMC theater to replace the current, smaller multiplex.

Street construction is proving to be a bigger problem than the mall construction, which, while noisy, ceases around noon and is masked by olive green walls advertising the stores that are coming in, said Kathleen Sheehan Burgess, manager of the Metropolitan Museum of Art store.

In addition to the painted walls shielding patrons from the construction, the mall has tried to ease the impact of the work by installing a hotline to inform customers about the changes and a concierge team to answer questions, direct customers to the particular store they’re seeking, and even walk them there if need be. Westfield has also sent a direct mail piece to 50,000 homes, and is hosting an ice skating rink from Nov. 21 to Jan. 17.

“Management is doing a really good job trying to bring in traffic as much as possible,” said Kalousdian. “They’re doing their best and putting on some activities, but people are trying to stay away.”

The one business thriving is the valet service, accessible from Santa Monica Boulevard. “It definitely has increased in usage over the last year, by a lot,” said Tabbah.

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