WOODLAND HILLS >> When Gideon Ashoori opened a jewelry store at The Promenade in Woodland Hills a quarter-century ago, an elegant shopping assistant would escort patrons from Saks Fifth Avenue to I. Magnin to his Gideon & Co. Fine Jewelry.
Now after 26 years, the purveyor of luxury rings and watches has hung an “Everything Must Go” sale sign.
Among the last businesses left inside the once-posh shopping mall in Warner Center, Ashoori’s store has joined a recent exodus that could empty the interior of the mall by fall.
• RELATED STORY: Lawsuit calls Promenade mall blighted ‘ghost town’ as Village at Westfield Topanga opens next door
“Of course, it’s sad to leave; we have a lot of good customers,” Ashoori said, looking out at a mall of mostly closed businesses, which he estimated was 80 percent vacant. “We’re moving because the shopping center’s going to eventually shut down — 60 to 90 days max.”
If the 43-year-old mall were to close, it would join a growing number of shuttered shopping centers across the nation.
Only the 550,000-square-foot indoor mall now gasping for breath at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street won’t likely end in a grand closeout sale. Or even an empty parking lot.
Instead, the 36-acre Promenade, once anchored by high-fashion department stores from Saks to J.W. Robinson’s — and more recently, Macy’s — may close off its sunlit white marble interior by walling it off at its Cafe Promenade food court and movie multiplex, according to interviews with business owners who have spoken with mall officials.
The eight-story AMC Theatres would then remain open, they say, as would outward facing restaurants and retailers Ruth’s Chris Steak House, The Rack, Crown Books, Maggiano’s Little Italy, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Ruby’s and Corner Bakery Cafe.
“They have forced everybody out,” said Yossi Kviatkosky, owner of the Rack, a premier billiard hall, bar and restaurant, who has filed a breach-of-contract civil suit against mall owner Westfield Corp. “All the stores are leaving. Within a month, the mall will be shut, the interior closed off.
“They actually showed me the blueprints on how they intend to close the mall. There’s no doubt.”
Westfield Corp., which purchased the mall in 1998, has filed no plans with the city of Los Angeles for the site’s development, city officials say.
In recent months, the Australia-based company has spent $500 million to make over its nearby Westfield Topanga mall.
It then spent another $350 million to open the adjacent Village at Westfield Topanga, a 550,000-square-foot open-air outdoor mall with a Costco and 100 shops and restaurants, according published reports.
But Westfield has been vague about what it will do with its waning Promenade, having last year stripped its Westfield logo from the Valley mall.
“We are evaluating a range of prospects and opportunities for the Promenade but have no comment or announcement to make at this time,” said Katy Dickey, executive vice president of communications, in an email.
As an extreme heat wave pushed San Fernando Valley temperatures well past 100 degrees, many residents sought shelter in traditional indoor shopping malls over the past few days.
But not at the two-story Promenade. But for a few moviegoers, it was nearly empty, with all but a half-dozen of its indoor stores closed. Only two vendors, shops selling tacos and teriyaki, remained in a once- bustling food court.
The upscale shopping mall that opened in 1973 next to gleaming Warner Center high-rises now could boast only the vestiges of former businesses, such as a torn away McDonald’s sign.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” said mall patron Eric Clay, 65, looking over the sunlit center atrium, where tall trees turned brown. “It seems like Westfield is a rudderless ship. I don’t think they know what they’re doing. It’s bizarre to me. It’s the death of a mall.”
Long gone were the Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor and Saks, which pulled out after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Also missing: the Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Dick’s Sporting Goods, which left a decade later.
The two Macy’s department stores in the mall closed last year and opened up a floodgate for departing businesses.
California Roll and Sushi left early this year, as did Arthur Murray Dance Studio, business owners said. Two weeks ago, a Royal Gems jewelry store pulled out. Last week, Venetian Design packed up its couches and ottomans.
Like Gideon’s, LA Furniture has posted a moving-sale sign. And most remaining businesses — including a nail salon, an eyebrow threading salon, a dance studio and an auto spa and valet company — say they’ll be gone by August.
“I don’t think anybody’s really sure what’s happening,” said Pam Orenstein, who with her husband founded Dance Dimensions Performing Arts Center eight years ago on the first floor to teach kids. It too will soon be vacant. “In another six weeks, this won’t be here.
“Isn’t it sad,” she said, as girls squealed with joy in a nearby studio. “This’ll break my heart, because I love this place.”
Not even Los Angeles city officials know the mall owner’s plans.
“We’ve worked with Westfield on the Village, and it’s been a great addition to the Valley,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents Warner Center, in an email. “Westfield has been looking at options for the Promenade site that’s a historical anchor of shopping and entertainment that can and should be better used to its full potential.
“I look forward to hearing their plans and will insist that they do community outreach for input once they are revealed.”
A few months ago, a Westfield official told a Woodland Hills neighborhood council it was considering building upscale apartments.
It was last September that Kviatkovsky, owner of The Rack, sued Westfield for allegedly turning the Promenade into a blighted “ghost town,” accusing the company of breaking a promise to maintain and market its once premier shopping mall. A jury trial has been scheduled for February.
“I’m not sad,” said Kviatkovsky. “I’m just pissed. The thing is, I’ve been lied to and deceived. I’ve been taken advantage of. That’s the basis of my lawsuit.”
Westfield Corp. has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
But a manager of Crown Books says that, despite the destitution inside the mall, the once-bargain bookstore and Halloween outlet has thrived as a Valley cultural haven, with local authors, book-signings, live music and open mic nights.
“Westfield won’t tell anybody anything, that’s the problem,” said Sue Beil, assistant manager of Crown Books, which will remain open and accessible through an outfacing entrance. “(But) you can still read good books, drink good drinks, eat good food.
“We’re still here, regardless of what’s going on inside.”
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