In the face of new shopping center alternatives, like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and entertainment-heavy Universal CityWalk, more and more traditional malls are repositioning themselves to remain competitive.
“They’re not going to die quietly,” said Tom Jirovsky, senior vice president at consulting firm Kosmont & Associates. “They know about these new projects that are doing so phenomenally well … they really just opened everyone’s eyes.”
Essentially, the bigger, enclosed, department store-anchored malls are taking a hard look at themselves and revamping to stay ahead of the game.
They’re doing everything from renovating their interiors to bringing in movie theaters and high-end restaurants. Some centers are even adding outdoor eateries.
“The people who will capitalize on this will be the retail leaders that have got the traditional mall and will do the outdoor experience,” said Mark Tweed, senior designer at shopping center architecture firm MCG Architects. “The developers who own these malls are not about to let them be razed, so you’re definitely going to see them transformed.”
Glendale Galleria serves as an example. The enclosed mall sits across the street from the upcoming Glendale Marketplace a two-story, open-air mall that will open to the public next April. To remain competitive, the Galleria is undergoing a major renovation that will be completed in early November.
Benches and rail fixtures are being replaced with brass, tile floors are being upgraded to limestone, and new glass doors are being placed on mall entrances. A new restaurant, the Cobalt Cantina, is slated to open at the Galleria this December. It will have an outdoor patio area.
“It will have a streetscape feel,” said Cindy Chong, general manager of the Glendale Galleria. “We’ve also increased the size of the court to make it feel more spacious.”
Montebello Town Center, near the Pomona Freeway (60) on San Gabriel Boulevard, is also getting a new look, according to Tweed, whose firm is working on the renovation project. Among MCG’s proposals, not yet approved by the mall’s owner, are a renovation of the street-level food court to include a detached movie theater, fountains and palm trees.
At Santa Monica Plaza, an enclosed mall located adjacent to the Third Street Promenade, a patio eating area was recently added along Broadway to make the mall more street-friendly to pedestrians.
In 1992, the Westside Pavilion on Pico Boulevard in West L.A. etched out a new identity by adding an outdoor extension. An enclosed pedestrian bridge over Westwood Boulevard attaches the older, enclosed mall to the new open-air shopping center across the street.
Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, one of the country’s largest malls, is waiting for city approval to expand its existing center to add a new theater complex and entertainment-themed restaurants, according to a spokeswoman. Construction on the 200,000-square-foot expansion is set to begin next spring.
And at the Northridge Fashion Center, the entire north wing of the mall has been reserved for an entertainment complex.
“We found over the past 10 years that malls started to look like one another. They had very much the same shopping experience,” said Annette Bethers, marketing director at the Northridge mall. “So malls are now trying to differentiate themselves from the competition and at the same time trying to give the consumers what they want.”
Adding more entertainment components, especially movie theaters, seems to be a prime component of most renovation plans. Fueling this trend is the growing demand by mall-goers to have a one-stop-shop not only for their shopping needs, but for eating, watching movies and being entertained.
Up until a few years ago, agreements drawn up between department stores and developers were not entertainment-friendly. Anchor stores were fearful that movie-goers would cannibalize a mall’s parking spaces. This served as a deterrent for interested theater owners.
Then retailers began to realize that movie houses actually attracted customers to stores, and the cinemas were given more parking rights. The arrival of theaters, in turn, prompted more high-end restaurants to open in malls, according to Richard Gaylord, chief executive at MCG Architects.
“The efforts tenants are putting forth to draw in the customers are becoming very sophisticated,” said Gaylord.
Mall owners are also taking a look at their tenant base, say some experts, to appeal to a more cost-conscious consumer.
Large malls have the advantage of big-box store spaces, some of which were abandoned when L.A.’s department store industry underwent a consolidation a few years ago. Many malls are replacing those stores with big-box discount chains, such as Target or Ross Dress for Less, thus increasing their consumer appeal.
For example, the Eastland Center in West Covina replaced its May Co. department store about three years ago with a Target store. In Whittier, developers in 1992 replaced a Hinshaw’s department store with discount retailers Ross and T.J. Maxx. And in Pasadena, another Target replaced a former May Co.
“In the ’70s and ’80s there was not as much concern about the cost, so malls had the kinds of retailers that perhaps weren’t the most cost-effficent,” said Simon Perkowitz, president of Perkowitz & Ruth Architects, Inc., a Long Beach firm specializing in shopping centers. “Today, people are more cost-conscious. The trend right now is redoing the tenanting and adding a lot more cost-friendly tenants.”