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BOUTIQUES 'R' US OFF-MALL SHOPS TRY TO PLEASE.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

When Pam Anderson stocks her shelves, she checks what's selling at the mall - and chucks it.

She knows the trends - she owns a store called Pam's Trendy Decor - but she doesn't want her boutique on Ventura Boulevard to look like her shopping center competitors. Her store is one of the relatively rare street-based sites not connected to a mega mall, but retail experts expect these soon could have a renaissance.

``Here, you get individual attention you never get in the mall,'' Anderson said. ``If you need something, I get on the phone and find it for you. With a chain outfit, you're lucky if they speak to you after they take your money.''

Operating outside a shopping center can be a dicey proposition, though, especially in the thick of the holiday shopping season. Retailers rang up $7.2 billion on the day after Thanksgiving, bolstered by sales at mall-based chains - Anderson grossed $40.30 for the day.

Yet while the life of the independent shopkeeper is never easy, there are unusual benefits that most managers of department stores and chain gift shops are unlikely to see.

``There are no crowds - oh, I detest crowds - there are no lines, and she gave us a discount just because we're good customers,'' said Karen Humes, a nurse-midwife from Moorpark out browsing on her lunch hour. ``You don't find that at Macy's. I could do all my shopping here.''

The discount she received on a silver bookmark for her mother stands in contrast to the prices at chain shops, which ordered tight inventories this year to cut down on the need for big markdowns.

Humes and her office mates have been scouring Anderson's boutique since October, picking through her Tiffany glass fairies, African walking sticks and German table linens.

As they found out, there are distinct advantages to dealing directly with the owner. Across the street at Furniture Etc., owner Norma Smoler has seen many a customer intent on bargaining down prices, something unheard of in a chain shop. At this time of year, she keeps her fingers crossed that the rush of shoppers will come late.

``We do advertising and pray a lot,'' she grinned. ``Everyone's at the malls now, because they're not thinking about a new sofa, they're thinking about new toys for their kids. But two weeks before Christmas, it picks up a lot.''

Eschewing malls for urban retail is returning to favor, according to Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Forecasting. Paradoxically, he said malls' popularity can be their own downfall, as the prospect of mingling with large crowds keeps shoppers like Humes away.

In his research, Barnard has also seen chains like Federated Department Stores, operator of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, and Sears beginning to experiment with nonmall locations once again.

``You have to remember major malls are a pain to shop in,'' Barnard said. ``First, you have to find a space and wend your way into the mall. Then once you're there, you find 100,000 stores that look exactly alike - that's not the case with off-mall stores.''

Conscious that his competitors, mall-based specialty shops and big-box mass merchants, have aisles filled with surf- and skate-clothes, Randy Beck of Chatsworth's Safari Surf and Sport has branched out into more exotic fare. Alongside his 10-foot surfboards, he has row after row of aloha shirts, tiki mugs, rugs modeled after surfers' woodies and bamboo curtains. To draw attention to his store, he hosts board collectors' shows and skate exhibitions in his Devonshire Boulevard parking lot.

``People come in and they say, I want to support my local neighborhood business,'' he said. ``In the big-box stores, you're just a number. Come in, buy it, get out, next. When people come in here, they're my customers, but they're my friends, too.''

The idea of thousands of customers strolling by her door on a busy day appeals to Jennifer Lewis, owner of Body & Sol, a Tarzana bikini shop, but she prefers the lower rent and independent feel of her Ventura Boulevard storefront to a mall. To draw in customers, even in the dead of winter, she relies on advertisements, word-of-mouth and a 38-year reputation for customer service.

``I'm not threatened by the (mall stores) at all,'' she said. ``They're corporately owned; we're privately owned so there's more satisfaction in making sure the customer is happy. You're not just someone getting 8 bucks an hour, you're really interested in making a sale.''

Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) From left, Pam Anderson, owner of Pam's Trendy Decor in Tarzana, shows jewelry to Karen Humes and Roberta Balian.

(2) Prospective customers on foot Thursday in Tarzana have many shops to choose from on Ventura Boulevard.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 5, 2003
Words:799
Previous Article:WOMEN MAKE FOR A WORTHY 'TWELFTH NIGHT'.
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