LOS ANGELES — Casting a smoky veil over Southern California, a crescent of fires raged on Monday, causing travel and import delays in the region as Fashion Week here got under way.
With a toll of at least 14 lives and 700 structures as of press time, rising temperatures and dry Santa Ana winds gusting to 45 miles an hour were expected to fuel the flames further.
On Sunday, airport traffic to Los Angeles International and San Diego’s Lindbergh Field and other regional airports was grounded for varying lengths of time, putting a wrench in travel plans. Southwest Airlines canceled all flights into the region late Sunday and warned people to call ahead on Monday.
Custo Barcelona’s West Coast sales manager, Veronica Silva, in Dallas for market last week, got caught in the snarl, suffering a four-hour delay returning here Sunday. “I ran into several sales reps [at the airport] who were frantic to get back to Los Angeles for Fashion Week,” she said. “They said if they didn’t get out of there, they were going to drive. It was madness when I got into LAX. LAX is crazy as it is. It felt like you were in a club on a Saturday night.”
In spite of it all, retailers and malls close to the fires reported minimal damage.
“Some of our employees have been evacuated from and have lost their homes,” said Arun Parmar, general manager of the Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino, Calif., located six miles south of where fires raged Saturday morning, about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles. “There’s no discernible loss of business.”
Margaret Stephens, regional marketing director for seven Westfield Shoppingtowns in the San Diego area, acknowledged “some small and national specialty stores have closed” but declined to release names. “Basically, we’re letting our retailers dictate whether they should close or not,” she said, adding school closures near the Plaza Camino Real mall in Carlsbad, Calif., a suburb of San Diego, are generating stronger traffic there. “It’s a great place to go to escape the poor air quality,” she said.“It’s very difficult for something not to affect the industry,” noted Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association. “But in this case, it’s not at the ports or rail junctions.”
Still, some manufacturers reported slight shipping delays importing from Mexico. All Access Apparel, maker of Self Esteem junior tops, said product that was due to ship Saturday made it out Monday, possibly owing to road closures past the border.
“We’ve lost maybe a day or two, but we’ve built in time for catastrophes,” said Gene Light, director of manufacturing for a Montebello, Calif.-based manufacturer, which produces 60 percent of its clothing in Mexico.
Vincent Bond, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said border crossing is running as usual. He said the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California, the third-busiest entrance into the U.S. behind Laredo and El Paso in Texas, experienced a light day on Saturday with 796 trucks crossing compared with the usual 2,000 to 2,900.
“As of [Monday afternoon], I haven’t heard of any delays,” he said.
Many employees at San Diego-based retailers Charlotte Russe and Rampage did not come to work or were leaving early Monday, according to a source within the company. Workers driving to Self Esteem and junior dress brand Tempted Apparel in Los Angeles from San Bernardino and Riverside counties also had a tough time, some arriving late and others telecommuting via e-mail and fax.
“There’s lots of traffic out there, and four or five of our employees live out there, making their commutes rough,” said Steve Schoenholz, president of Tempted.
For now, most manufacturers say sales impacts are at a minimum. “If these fires continue to rage and more of Southern California is impacted, it may impact us negatively,” said Alex Berenson, president of young men’s and junior resource Kik Wear Industries. “It may give retailers one more reason to slow the ordering process.”
Cecil Strickland, executive director of retail relations at the California Market Center, who was gearing up for market week beginning on Friday, said he had only two inquiries from buyers scheduling trips here. “Our response is the business of buying and selling at the CMC will absolutely go on.”
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