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California Mall a ‘Mighty’ Big Draw

November 26, 1997

ONTARIO, Calif. (AP) _ A trip to this mighty mall can strip you of your dollars and sense.

You can touch a sea cucumber, listen to the stars, smell like Elizabeth Taylor, watch a movie in 54 places, or eat as fast or fancy as you please.

No-nonsense folks can pound the pavement at the Ontario Mills Mall for incense, bath scents or a fishing license.

``This place is a do,″ said Ryan Hartstein, 17, of Big Bear, on his first trip to the year-old mall they call regional, outlet, interactive, mega and super.

During the first 10 months of 1997, the mall drew 14 million visitors. Disneyland drew a record 14.2 million people in 12 months in 1995, according to Amusement Business Magazine.

Mall sales put $4.3 million in sales tax revenue in Ontario’s coffers and $42.3 million in the state’s. About 7,300 people work at the mall.

Some say the best and the wildest is yet to come since this will be the mall’s first real Christmas _ only a few stores were open in time last year. This year, there are no vacancies. And 4 million people are expected to visit the mall’s 237 retailers between now and New Year’s.

Ontario Mills was the largest retail complex completed in the United States in 1996, with 2 million square feet of buildable area on 165 acres that straddle Interstates 10 and 15, some 40 miles east of Los Angeles.

The Mills Corp. in Arlington, Va., operates six other mighty malls _ in Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas and Arizona _ in addition to 11 community shopping centers across the country.

Super malls on the drawing boards include two more in California, another in Texas, and in New Jersey, North Carolina and Tennessee.

``People were getting bored with malls,″ said Ontario Mills General Manager Jim Mance. ``We were not overmalled. I think we were overcopied. You can’t keep copying, cookie-cutting or rubber-stamping malls. You have to come up with something different.″

The average visitor to the Mills mall spends more than three hours _ because it is different, he said. Shoppers rave about prices at the mall, a combination of outlet stores, off-price retailers and specialty stores.

``I saved a small fortune,″ said San Diego shopper Debra Rawls. She paid $169 for 10 shirts and two pair of pants. ``I saved over $100,″ she said.

An employee at the Mikasa Factory Store who identified herself only as Marlena, said she wasn’t a big shopper, but ``I would choose this mall if I had to take guests shopping. It’s got something for everybody _ really.″

There are manufacturer’s outlets like Mikasa, specialty store outlets like Group USA, department stores like J.C. Penney, super savings stores and off-price retailers like Marshalls.

For bargain-binging upper crusters, there is a Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet and Off Rodeo Drive Beverly Hills, with the likes of Bernini, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Gianni Versace, Hugo Boss, Moschino, Shauna Stein and Giorgio Armani.

For weary or non-shoppers, there is the 30-screen AMC theater or the iWERKS four-story screen. Or, within walking distance, but just off mall property is the 22-screen Edwards theater complex. Edwards also runs an IMAX theater.

Or you can enter another zone in magic motion machines, in racers or rockets or on skates, watercraft, skis, skateboards, motorcycles or prop cycles.

At places like Dave & Buster’s, The American Wilderness Experience and Gameworks by Sega, the hours and the money go fast.

Virtual reality isn’t always, though. ``The skier had horrible form,″ said Erik Cherry, 17, of Big Bear. ``You wonder how he stayed on his skis while he raced.″

Cherry was, however, impressed by the atmosphere. ``There’s not a square sign with normal lettering anywhere,″ he said.

Television screens, loud music, singing animals, dancing plants and light shows keep the enclosed mall jumping.

There are 1 million shoppers who live within 10 miles of the mall, said Mance, 52, who started as an architect building malls. But credit card receipts show the mall is drawing people from 100 miles around. ``Our studies tell us 56 percent of our customers come from beyond 20 miles,″ he said.

The mall hosts 200 tour buses a month and even has a director of tourism in Bob Amano.

Japanese tourists are so profitable for the mall that the 14-member management staff took Japanese lessons and Sunday mall hours were expanded to catch tour buses headed from Los Angeles International Airport to Las Vegas. The Wolfgang Puck Cafe does a great box lunch business during those bus stops.

The average domestic shopper spends $109 per visit, while the average international visitor spends $435 per stop, Mance said.

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