Why The Village at Westfield Topanga's first year was a mixed bag

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It’s been a year since The Village at Westfield Topanga opened in Warner Center. (Photo by Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News)
It’s been a year since The Village at Westfield Topanga opened in Warner Center. (Photo by Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News)

One year after the highly anticipated opening of The Village at Westfield Topanga, the results for the $350 million mall are a mixed bag.

As with any big new retail center, there has been some tenant turnover with at least four businesses closing because of lackluster sales, but seven others have signed leases over the last 12 months.

Exiting were floral design studio Fleurish, ConfeXion Cupcakes, Italian men’s clothing store Montezemolo and Shoe Doctor, which just closed. The owner blamed his $5,000 monthly rent for the shoe repair shop’s demise.

“I cannot afford it … I’m not making any money,” said cobbler Harry Chivahyan.

The Westfield Corp. mall opened on Sept. 18, 2015, and was marketed as a lifestyle destination featuring a fitness center, beauty salons, restaurants, retailers, attractions for children to play, plus watering stations for dogs.

RELATED PHOTOS: The Village at Westfield Topanga, one year later

Located in Warner Center on Victory Boulevard between Owensmouth Avenue and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, the open-air mall is not yet a retail home run. Still, Westfield Senior Vice President for U.S. Development Larry Green said he’s pleased with the results.

“It was a very good year. We’ve exceeded our goals in terms of traffic and attendance at the shopping center,” Green said. “You can walk out there every day of the week and see smiling, happy people.”

Just how well the center, which includes a Costco, is doing is hard to gauge.

During one lunchtime visit over the past week as the temperature outside neared 100 degrees, there was little foot traffic at the mall. But a few days later, when the temperature dipped, business was brisk.

Retail mix raises questions

There are now 78 tenants at The Village, including Total Wine & More, which opened Thursday. Westfield would eventually like to see 85 businesses, Green said.

But it’s not all about the numbers. The types other$25f tenants matter as well.

There is a subtle hint that Westfield senses the mix of businesses might need some tweaking.

Inside the mall is a kiosk that asks customers to rate things like the retail directory. Visitors have a choice of buttons that range from a bright smile to a frown. The information is then sent to Westfield executives, who can view the results real time.

RELATED STORY: Shoe Doctor explains why The Village at Westfied Topanga lost its sole

According to shopping center consultant Britt Beemer, founder of America’s Research Group based in Summerville, South Carolina, it’s a troubling sign that Westfield is doing this kind of research so soon.

“They don’t have the right complement of tenants. They typically do these things after a couple of years and there is turnover,” said Beemer, who noted that he visited the mall earlier this year. “I was there in the evening, and it seemed like there were a lot more places to eat than buy things.”

Mike Vaughn, 38, of Thousand Oaks, works for a Warner Center financial services company and visits the mall a few times a week, although he admits he doesn’t shop at the stores.

“I just come here for lunch,” Vaughn said. “I don’t get to shop a lot. I do most of my shopping online.”

City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents Warner Center and lives nearby, is also a frequent Village visitor.

“It’s hard to imagine life before The Village,” Blumenfield said. “It’s become such an integral part of the West Valley — and for those of us who live there, it’s already a part of the fabric of everyday life.”

One factor in the mall’s long-term success will be the big sales tax break included in the development agreement between Westfield and the City of Los Angeles.

It’s a revenue-sharing deal that allows Westfield to retain 50 percent of the sales tax money that Village retailers generate, up to a maximum $25 million over time, according to Green. The exact amount of the first year’s sales tax is still being calculated, Green and city officials said.

Parking problems

Tenants and customers alike say one roadblock to the mall’s ultimate success is the parking.

When The Village first opened, parking was free. Then Westfield started charging visitors without any advance notice. Parking at street-level meters is $1 for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the parking structure is free for the first hour. After that it’s $1 per hour up five hours with a maximum daily charge of $14. Valet service costs $10.

Mall consultant Beemer called it “very dumb” to charge for mall parking, even though some merchants offer validations.

“Its very contrary to what Californians have experienced before,” he said. “I think parking fees are like oil and water. It never mixes very well. To me that’s very shortsighted.”

RELATED STORY: Village at Westfield Topanga parking a problem for merchants, visitors

Mary Falco, 64, of Calabasas stopped by the mall on a recent Thursday to shop at Eddie Bauer and J. Jill.

She said she would visit The Village more often, but the parking setup is a problem.

“Parking is a hassle. And I have to do the thing with the ticket,” she said of getting a free parking validation at Costco.

Still, the parking doesn’t bother 37-year-old Titiana Haroutunian of Woodland Hills. She’s a member of the 24 Hour Fitness gym and comes to the mall about four times a week.

“I love the Village. I like the food selection and the active-wear stores and the Coffee Bean,” she said.

She doesn’t mind the parking situation either.

“I’m totally fine with it,” she said.

Long-term solutions

Bottom line — the Village remains a work in progress one year in.

But Beemer thinks something that could make a big difference is a big anchor store. Although he doesn’t think Costco, which the city encouraged Westfield to include at the mall, is the solution.

“You are not going to get the bleed-over traffic from Costco,” he said.

As Beemer pointed out, Costco shoppers typically get what they need at the warehouse store and then go home. “You want to have something to bring people in the front door (of the mall) and then go somewhere else,” he explained.



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