Aftershock in L.A.: Retailers Take Stock, See Slow Return to Action

LOS ANGELES -- As aftershocks continued to rattle Southern California Tuesday, local retailers began the arduous task of digging out, sweeping up, assessing damage and trying to determine when they might be able to reopen.<BR><BR>Some stores, such as...

LOS ANGELES — As aftershocks continued to rattle Southern California Tuesday, local retailers began the arduous task of digging out, sweeping up, assessing damage and trying to determine when they might be able to reopen.

Some stores, such as those in the Northridge Fashion Center, might never reopen.

The collapsed Bullock’s in Northridge was condemned Tuesday by city officials, who also were considering condemming the entire mall, which includes Robinsons-May, J.C. Penney and a parking structure that also crumbled in Monday’s devastating earthquake.

Officials explained that hidden structural damage in other mall stores might lead to similar collapses, particularly if there are further aftershocks or smaller temblors. Most other major stores and shopping

centers were uncertain whether they would reopen today. Beverly Center and Westside Pavilion, two malls in west Los Angeles, were closed Tuesday to evaluate internal and structural damage.

One shopping complex, the Century City Shopping Center, also in west Los Angeles, was able to open Tuesday because its open-air design spared it from much damage. Because it was one of the few open, it reported strong business in its stores, restaurants and movie theaters.

J.C. Penney Co. said 13 of its 16 stores in the area were affected in some way, and that five units are closed indefinitely due to severe structural and water damage. A spokeswoman said the company’s vice president of structural services and six teams of construction experts had been in the field since Monday afternoon, and were assessing damage.

The five Penney stores closed indefinitely are those in Santa Monica, Northridge, North Hollywood, Canoga Park and Granada Hills.

The spokeswoman did not have any estimates for rebuilding costs, lost business or merchandise.

The Penney’s in Pasadena experienced minor damage, such as tiles falling from the ceiling, but was able to open by noon Monday, the spokeswoman said. She did not have a report on traffic. Others, like the Santa Clara store, were ready to open but awaiting the go-ahead from city inspectors.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. said seven of its 27 stores in the area were forced to close Monday and Tuesday.

The Sears units that sustained the most severe damage — in Northridge and Glendale — are closed indefinitely, said a spokesman. Damage estimates on structure and merchandise loss were still being tabulated Tuesday night.

Sears’ North Hollywood store is expected to open within two to three weeks. The Burbank branch could be opened by this weekend, and the Hollywood, Valencia and Baldwin Hills stores might reopen as soon as today, the spokesman said.

Montgomery Ward was forced to close five of its 12 area units. The roof collapsed onto the selling floor on the upper level of Ward’s west Los Angeles store, and its Panorama City unit sustained water damage when sprinklers and pipes crashed through the ceiling. The Canoga Park store was closed because of cracked columns.

Ward’s stores in Ventura and Eagle Rock each sustained minor non-structural damage and were closed Monday and Tuesday, said a spokesman, but the company did not know when they would reopen.

Despite the continuing aftershocks, some in the 3 to 4 point range, some stores reported a semblance of normalcy returning.

Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills will reopen today, said Gary Witkin, vice chairman. He said the 80,000-square-foot Beverly Hills unit is in “pretty good shape,” adding, “A lot of the glass and windows have been replaced, the interiors are being cleaned up and we will be open for business Wednesday. There was no structural damage.”

The Woodland Hills unit, however, is “a mess,” he said. “We’re still assessing it. Mirrors are down, showcases are in disarray. It needs ceiling and lighting work, and the air-conditioning equipment is twisted. We have a full crew assessing the damage. It could potentially be weeks before we reopen it, but we don’t think there has been significant structural damage.”

Witkin said none of the Saks employees were injured.

“They’re remarkably calm considering the havoc in their lives. They’ve handled this beautifully. I have a lot of respect for them.”

“This has got to hurt commerce [in Los Angeles],” Witkin noted. “It will take people hours to get to their jobs, trying to circumvent the highways and use back roads. There will be a loss of productivity.” He expects a drop in tourism, which will affect Saks’ Beverly Hills store more than its Woodland Hills unit, which has a greater percentage of local clientele.

Jim Nordstrom, co-chairman of Nordstrom, said he was concerned that there may be a decline in conventions and tourism in Los Angeles, hurting retailers and other businesses.

“Rodeo Drive could be hit,” he said.

Nordstrom was forced to close four stores in Los Angeles, but expects two to reopen today, in Beverly Hills and Glendale.

The Topanga unit, which is near Northridge, is “indefinite,” said Nordstrom. “It’s in bad shape.”

He also said a clearance unit in Northridge is “a mess.”

Mervyn’s kept 12 stores closed Monday, but reopened three Tuesday, in Glendale, Ventura and Burbank, and expects to reopen its Oxnard unit today. “We have teams in the area conducting damage assessments, and we have contractors to estimate the time and dollars it will take to get these stores going again,” a Mervyn’s spokeswoman said. “The Sun Valley and Northridge store sustained extensive damage, and won’t open anytime soon.”

Other units may open sooner, but no dates have been set.

Mervyn’s parent company, Dayton Hudson Corp., is making a $100,000 grant to the Red Cross, putting Red Cross collection boxes in stores, accepting Red Cross vouchers and giving a 20 percent discount on them. Mervyn’s is also offering special assistance for credit customers, such as extended payments, and low interest loans to employees participating in the company’s credit union.

Chanel on Rodeo Drive, where many stores were closed Tuesday, expects to reopen today. One reason for the closings is that people were having trouble getting into Beverly Hills, but building damage seems minimal.

Giorgio Armani, on North Rodeo Drive, for example, remained closed Monday and Tuesday, but had only minor damage. Armani wants to reopen this week, but an inspection must be made first to insure the safety of customers and employees, a spokeswoman said.

Gary Nelson, managing director of Ferragamo on Rodeo said, “We stayed closed today [Tuesday] out of respect to our employees who lost almost everything. It just didn’t seem appropriate to open.”

Neiman Marcus and I. Magnin on Wilshire Drive were open Tuesday but were limping along. Neiman’s closed early and Magnin’s did not have elevator service and the top half of the store remained closed due to water damage.

The California Mart remains structurally sound, according to a spokesman. It’s built to absorb shock and roll with the motion of an earthquake, he said.

On Tuesday, the last day of market week, buyers were following Mart instructions to duck under tables or door frames during stronger after-shocks.

New Mart, across the street from California Mart, was open Tuesday, despite some broken windows, which were already being replaced.

Leonard Rabinowitz, ceo of Carole Little in central Los Angeles, said his headquarters did not sustain damage and that he was operating normally Tuesday.

Leon Max, in Glendale, 10 miles east of Northridge, said there would be no production delays. He said 80 percent of his contractors were in good shape.

Most showroom reps say they will need to do more work on the road to make up for the lost days.

“We will have to be innovative,” said Dorie Rogers, sales manager for David Dart, a contemporary casual line.

Another rep, Sylvana Ganchev, co-owner of Studio 10 showroom, in the New Mart, said most appointments were kept.

“But I worry that in the long run, this earthquake may deter buyers from the West Coast,” she said. “This will make for a lot more work on the road.”

She said she thinks the San Francisco Fashion Center and the L.A. Contemporary Association show at the Four Seasons Clift Hotel in San Francisco may get bigger crowds during its next market which starts the first week in February, as a result of the California quake.

–Michael Marlow and Kim-Van Dang, Los Angeles, and David Moin and Dianne M. Pogoda, New York