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Weekend storm fails to deter California shoppers

December 8, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The drenching arrival of El Nino didn’t deter holiday shoppers, who flooded into Southern California malls and shopping plazas over the weekend despite the season’s first major storm.

The El Nino-driven deluge was a boon to major retailers, particularly enclosed malls that also offered covered parking. Some centers said traffic was up as much as 28 percent from a year ago.

But it was devastating to some shopkeepers in coastal areas, like Laguna Beach, where the storm sent several feet of water rampaging through the art colony and tourist town’s upscale shopping district.

The car count at the Beverly Center, a popular mall on the Los Angeles-Beverly Hills border, appeared to be up about 28 percent over a year-ago, although final figures weren’t yet available, spokeswoman Evette Caceres said Monday.

``Whether or not that was related to El Nino I don’t know, but it was very, very busy,″ she said. ``When we have bad weather we do an incredible amount of business. Rain is good for us.″

Shoppers braved a storm that dumped nearly three inches of rain on the Beverly Hills-West Los Angeles area on Saturday, and far more on some other areas. Parts of Orange County were inundated with nearly eight inches. The Oxnard-Camarillo area to the northwest had more than five inches of rain.

The storm was viewed as a blessing at the Glendale Galleria, another enclosed mall just north of Los Angeles. A preliminary estimate, based on counters and distribution of ``umbrella″ bags handed out to help shoppers keep their parcels dry, put the turnout 10 percent above last year, spokeswoman Deborah Blackford said.

``It seems like people maybe had cabin fever and came in to shop,″ she said. ``It’s usually good for business. ... Rain gear and all the jackets are selling extremely well.″

Not everyone was happy with the weather. Runoff from inland mountains turned into a flash flood that cascaded into boutiques and restaurants in Laguna Beach on Saturday, smashing doors and windows and flooding stores. Shopkeepers still were cleaning up and counting their losses on Monday.

At Fiori’s, a shop on Pacific Coast Highway that specializes in expensive Italian pottery, large urns that sell for as much as $1,500 each were floating in two feet of water before the flood receded.

``We lost five expensive urns,″ proprietor Bonnie Wolin said. ``We ended up with three to four inches of mud when the water went down. Because it’s considered artwork, I can’t get flood insurance, so my loss is total.″

``The first weekend of December is usually huge revenue for us and we were totally closed,″ she said.

Retailers may be doubly blessed _ or cursed _ within a few days. Another storm developing over the Central Pacific could hit Southern California by Sunday or Monday, said Bruce Rockwell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

El Nino is the weather-disrupting condition in the Pacific Ocean that occurs typically every two to seven years when trade winds weaken, allowing warm water normally situated off Australia to drive eastward to western South America. The name El Nino comes from the Spanish words for baby Jesus because the huge, warm pool usually arrives around Christmas.

Generally, weather conditions must be catastrophic before they have an impact on consumers’ shopping plans, said Kurt Barnard president of Barnard’s Retail Trend Report.

``Weather does tend to have an effect on retailing, but by and large, barring a very severe weather development, such as a severe, severe snowstorm that paralyzes traffic, the weather is probably the most overrated influence, most overrated force on shopping I can imagine,″ he said. ``If you really need to buy something, eventually, you will buy it. If it’s not this week it’s next week.″

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