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California Quake Causes Minor Retail Disruptions

Merchants roll on after 5.4 magnitude trembler.

Personnel from the California Water Services work on a leaking water main in East Los Angeles, July 29, 2008, after a 5.4 magnitude earthquake hit the Los Angeles, California area at 11:42 a.m. local time.

The earthquake that rattled Southern California Tuesday caused just a ripple of industry disruptions and a few anxious moments. Damage and injuries were reported to be minor.

The magnitude 5.4 quake, reduced from an initial estimate of 5.8, struck at 11:42 a.m. and was centered about 30 miles east of Los Angeles in Chino Hills, San Bernardino County. However, the jolt was felt as far south as San Diego and as far east as Las Vegas.

Businesses said they were operating normally shortly after the temblor, which forced the evacuation of some buildings and stores.

Designer Monique Lhuillier was in her office on the third floor of her downtown Los Angeles factory when the quake hit.

“All 140 of us ran downstairs in a panic,” she said of her employes. “As soon as we got to the street the post lady handed us the mail and said, ‘Did you feel that earthquake? It was a 5.8.’ “It’s just part of living in L.A….I called our store and we had a mother of the bride [while watching her daughter try on her wedding dress], say ‘Is this a good omen or a bad omen?’”

Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles, said the store was evacuated but nothing was damaged and there were no phone or Web site disruptions.

“Our Web servers are in Canada, thank God, so our e-commerce wasn’t affected at all,” he said.

Macy’s in Topanga Plaza was closed after minor flooding from the sprinkler system.

A few retailers at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, about 30 miles from the quake’s center, reported minor damages, such as broken bowls at Villeroy & Boch and shattered crystal at Baccarat, but the center wasn’t evacuated and shoppers remained indoors.

People didn’t even leave,” said center spokeswoman Debra Gunn Downing.

Most retailers said the occasional earthquake is just part of doing business in the Golden State.

At the Balenciaga store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, manager Carrie Smoljanovich said, “Everything is structurally sound and there were no disruptions to business.” She surmised that the customers in the store were California natives because “natives just sort of roll with it.”

One non-native employee who works on the second floor reported that the building swayed and shook and she kneeled under her desk.

Intuition owner Jaye Hersh, whose store is in West Los Angeles, said, “There were a lot of tourists in our store and there was a lot of excitement, but there was no harm done.”

Winston Hewett, national communications director for Opus, which owns The Shoppes at Chino Hills, said the Trader Joe’s grocery store had about 30 broken cases of wine and most of the open-air center’s shops were closed for less than two hours.

“We have a business disruption plan,” Hewett said. “As with any act of Mother Nature, we have to try to be prepared; it’s part of doing business” in California.

“We had a couple products fall.…We ran outside,” said Charlene Robrigabo, an employee at Tessie’s Serenity Spa in the Gateway Village shopping center in Chino Hills. “Everybody in the center evacuated their buildings, and it doesn’t seem like any of the businesses have closed.”

Verizon Communications said the quake briefly disrupted local landline service, and other carriers such as AT&T reported system congestion from a high volume of calls. There were also reports of short Internet server interruptions,

The quake hit a state battered over the past 12 months by harsh winter storms and flooding, wildfires, drought, a housing market collapse, skyrocketing gas and food prices and widespread economic downturn.

The impact was in contrast with the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which registered a 6.7 magnitude and caused an estimated $25 billion in damage, killed 72 people and injured more than 9,000.

The Southern California region is among the most seismically active in the world, and the state’s building codes were updated in 2001.

“Some of our displays have fallen down, some of the stuff from the rooftop came down, so we had to sweep,” said Sharon Catedriloa, an employee at Active Ride Shop in The Shoppes at Chino Hills. “I haven’t felt a big one like this in a while.”