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Quake Exacts Toll On Stores in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- The devastating 6.6 magnitude earthquake here that claimed at least 24 lives Monday wreaked havoc on retailers, particularly at Northridge Fashion Center, which is close to the temblor's epicenter in the San Fernando...

LOS ANGELES — The devastating 6.6 magnitude earthquake here that claimed at least 24 lives Monday wreaked havoc on retailers, particularly at Northridge Fashion Center, which is close to the temblor’s epicenter in the San Fernando Valley.

There were no casualty reports from retailers, though many of their stores were damaged — some totally wrecked — and never opened Monday. Among the worst hit was Bullock’s in Northridge. The facade caved in, causing several floors to collapse to the first level. A spokeswoman said the unit is expected to be closed for repairs for months.

Robinsons-May, Sears, Best and Levitz also suffered severe damage in Northridge, where a three-level parking garage collapsed, trapping a street sweeper in his car for most of the day. Firefighters rescued him. West Side Pavillion, Santa Monica Place, Century City Shopping Center, and Beverly Center were shut down.

Bullock’s in Sherman Oaks was also hit hard, incurring structural and water damage. A total of eight Bullock’s — including those in Woodland Hills, Thousand Oaks, Pasedena, Westwood, Century City and Beverly Center — all remained closed Monday, due to water damage to merchandise and interiors.

Retailers dispatched store planning and construction teams to assess damages. For those stores able to reopen today, traffic is expected to be light because of transportation difficulties.

The earthquake was felt as far north as Bakersfield, as far east as Las Vegas and as far south as San Diego.

It knocked out electricity and phone service until late morning, caused gas lines to burst, set homes on fire and closed at least four major freeways, which had sections buckle under the force.

Many retailers were in New York for the National Retail Federation’s annual convention when news of the quake spread. “It’s a mess out there,” said Arthur C. Martinez, chairman and ceo of Sears Merchandise Group, who was at the NRF. “At least four [Sears] stores have sustained significant structural damage. We don’t know yet about the others.” Sears has 27 stores in the region. Hollywood, North Hollywood, North Ridge and Santa Monica stores were among those damaged, but no one was hurt. Sears field construction people were on the scene, and “have it as well under control as can be expected six hours after the quake,” Martinez added.

Mervyn’s, based in Hayward, in northern California, sent a team to the disaster area and early indications were that 10 stores were affected. Some had negligible cosmetic damage; others experienced broken water pipes and structural damage. Of the 27 Mervyn’s units in the earthquake area, six were severely damaged. Gary Witkin, vice chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue, said two Saks stores stayed closed Monday. The unit in Woodland Hills, which is close to the epicenter, was heavily damaged. “It needs ceiling work and lighting work. I can’t imagine it opening before the weekend, provided it doesn’t have any structural damage,” Witkin said.

The Beverly Hills unit also sustained some damage and required a full day to clean up. Witkin said he expects the store to open today. “Thank God the earthquake occurred in the middle of the night,” he said, noting that there were no reports of any injuries to Saks employees.

Fatalities were caused by collapsed apartment buildings, freeway accidents and heart attacks. The earthquake was the second-largest to hit the Los Angeles area since scientific record-keeping began. The largest was in Sylmar in 1971.

South Coast Plaza was shaken, with mannequins and merchandise falling to the ground. Damage, according to retailers there, was not severe.

Nordstrom kept four stores closed Monday, including one clearance unit. Jim Nordstrom, co-chairman, reached in the morning, did not yet have specific information on the condition of the units. “It’s a horrible day,” said Nordstrom. “Ceilings, but not roofs, fell in, and structural engineers were on the scene. We just don’t know the extent of it. It’s too early.” “There’s glass all over Rodeo Drive,” said Arie Kopelman, president of Chanel. However, Chanel’s new unit at 400 Rodeo, which opened Nov. 19, stood firm. “We built it solid as a rock,” Kopelman said. “Everything hung in there. Some products fell off display shelves, but there was no damage to any merchandise.” The store was closed Monday for the clean up, he added.

Kopelman said none of his employees were hurt. He also expressed concerns about “the general attitude of people in California” in the face of the latest disaster, coming on top of the recent fires and riots. “It doesn’t help the recovery but, like everything else, this too will pass. We just don’t have the information to assess whether it will be sooner or later.”

Chanel’s South Coast Plaza unit was unscathed, Kopelman added.

Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills remained closed Monday but is expected to open today. No serious damage is expected, although a spokesman noted there was a lot of debris, mostly broken china and gifts. NM also has units in Newport Beach and San Diego.

The Contempo Casuals division of Neiman Marcus Group has 45 units in the area, but no information was available from the parent company.

Carter Hawley Hale closed its Broadway stores in North Ridge, Topanga, Sherman Oaks, Panorama City, Fox Hills, Baldwin Hills, Beverly Center, Century City, Santa Monica, Glendale and Plaza.

The company said it would provide customers with higher credit limits, instant credit accounts, deferred billing for up to six months and a 10 percent discount on replacement items purchased by earthquake victims.

Wilshire Boulevard’s retail corridor in Beverly Hills — including Saks, Neiman Marcus and I. Magnin — shut down.

Three I. Magnin stores were closed, in Beverly Hills, Woodland Hills and Palos Verdes.

Stores on Rodeo Drive, Melrose Avenue and Sunset Plaza also closed for the day. Several restaurants on Sunset and Melrose, however, were open, operating on generators and doing a booming business because many people had been evacuated from their homes or had no electricity.

Barneys New York had to delay its first day of training for key executives of the new store, which is slated to open in March on Wilshire Boulevard.

Bullock’s Manhattan Beach, about 30 miles south of the epicenter, opened at 10 a.m. Monday, though traffic was almost non-existent at lunch time. No damage to merchandise was evident at this store, but houses in the area shook violently, resulting in personal property losses.

Up in Studio City, near the epicenter, several houses slid down a hill.

Some looting was reported in the West Hollywood area, though most owners attempted to get to their stores to assess the damage and protect their property. One store owner said there was no point in cleaning up until after the aftershocks, which continued to rattle the city all day Monday.

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday would have been a high-traffic shopping day otherwise.

The closing of the Santa Monica Freeway may also affect retailers longer term, since reconstruction may take up to a year, according to reports from Caltrans officials, the city’s freeway caretakers. The freeway collapsed at the La Cienega exit in West Hollywood, which is the closest freeway exit to the Beverly Center shopping complex.

The California Mart downtown was in its second-to-last day of Fashion Week for the summer market. The building had electricity intermittently. It was open for business all day, but traffic was slow.

The Pacific Coast Travelers Group, which exhibits on the lower level of the Mart, decided not to open for market on Monday. Most permanent showroom owners came in to check on their spaces before locking up for the day to deal with crises at home.

While manufacturers closer to the epicenter could not be reached for comment, larger downtown manufacturers suffered only minor damage.

At Guess Inc.’s production and distribution facility dirt fell from the ceiling, and emergency generators overcame a power outage in the morning, according to Larry Edelman, director of risk management and loss prevention.

“It’s amazing that there’s no damage, but the complex was built in 1989, so it’s up to the most recent safety codes,” he said. “We’re in good shape. It’s business as usual here.”

The same was true for Jonathan Martin Inc., which suffered only broken glass and loss of power in the morning. Rampage sustained only fallen lighting fixtures, at its offices in nearby Vernon.

At Cherokee Group, east of Northridge in Sunland, water leaked into the cutting room, flooding some of the offices with a few inches of water, according to mailroom supply manager Bernard Schaefers. Pieces of the paperboard ceiling littered the offices and the company closed early..

–with contributions by KIM-VAN DANG, Los Angeles.