LOS ANGELES — It was an uneasy weekend for retailers here, many of whom had opened for the first time since last Monday’s earthquake ripped through Los Angeles. Traffic and sales were slow, but shopkeepers tried to put a positive spin on things.
“I thought it was going to be a zero day or a $250 day, and while it wasn’t a normal Saturday, business wasn’t bad,” said Eva Doran, owner of the Benetton unit in Beverly Center. “Sunday was good because people needed a change from being home. Monday might be a different story because of the traffic jams.”
Indeed, many of the city’s streets were choked with traffic early Monday as commuters tried to make their way through surface streets because they couldn’t use closed freeways. Although Mayor Richard Riordan asked businesses to stagger hours to prevent rush hour gridlock, cars on many streets inched along through the early part of Monday.
During the weekend, however, slow traffic in the stores was the major problem. Many retailers said their business had dropped off more than 50 percent from pre-earthquake levels.
“We did about 25 percent of normal this weekend at Beverly Center,” said Herb Fink of Theodore. “The pace is very slow. The quake has knocked people’s equilibrium. They’re walking around scared.”
Fink said his Rodeo Drive unit did better over the weekend, but he attributed that to tourists, not locals. Around the corner from Theodore on Rodeo Drive, Emporio Armani remained closed on Brighton Way as construction workers scurried to repair a corner of the building that had collapsed. It is expected to reopen this week.
Some San Ferbnando Valley retailers, located closer to the quake’s epicenter in Northridge, remained closed as repairs and rebuilding continued. While the Northridge Fashion Center, which was condemned, will take many months to rebuild, others hope to reopen in a few weeks.
At Ron Ross, a specialty store in Studio City whose building sustained major damage, owners informed vendors Monday that all was well, and they would reopen in several weeks. Building inspectors are expected this week at the Ron Ross building and could allow employees to reenter the building by week’s end.
“We have set up our offices temporarily in our dining room,” said Patty Ross, owner and women’s buyer. “We’re having our shipments rerouted to our temporary storage center near our home. We will continue to get merchandise in until we can move it and get it in the store.”
At Beverly Center, the behemoth that sticks out of the L.A. landscape like a big brown box, an equally imposing sign hung from the structure Saturday announcing it had finally reopened.
Inside, a jittery crowd shopped, defying rumors making the rounds that the numerous aftershocks were going to cause a major earthquake on Saturday. In the California Pizza Kitchen on ground level, a passing truck made nervous diners look toward the ceiling to see if the noise and shaking were indeed “the big one.”
Don Trefry, general manager of Beverly Center, described business as “moderately slow” during the weekend.
“After what we had been through for the past week,” he said, “it was gratifying to see people in the stores doing their usual things: talking to customers and ringing cash registers. We realize this is not people’s first priority right now, but it feels good to see things beginning to get back to normal.”
Even shoppers toting bags admitted their mood had changed.
“It’s so weird to get back to your normal thing,” said Heidi Campbell. “But we just wanted to get out, and we love buying clothes.”
Campbell and her friend Wendy Border, Beverly Center shoppers who are employees of the closed Banana Republic in Sherman Oaks, said it could be weeks before they can return to their store.
“We just wanted to get out of the Valley,” Border said. “Over there, many of the stores aren’t open.”
“We’ve had the riots,” said Fink of Theodore. “We’ve had the fires. Now the earthquakes. Next, it’ll be the locusts. Somebody with a lot of power has it in for retailers here, but I’m glad I can still laugh. It really isn’t funny.”