South Coast Plaza reopens Monday, June 1 with most amenities shut

  • The carousel at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa will remain closed even as the retail center reopens June 1. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is void of customers after a rise in COVID-19 cases on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

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    The gallery will resume inseconds
  • South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is void of customers after a rise in COVID-19 cases on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa lacks customers after a rise in COVID-19 cases on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

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The giant South Coast Plaza retail center will reopen Monday, June 1 with limited hours and many of its amenities sidelined to ease shoppers’ concerns about the novel coronavirus.

The Costa Mesa center quietly announced details of the reopening on its webpage late Thursday, May 28. California’s easing of stay-at-home orders now allows indoor malls to open. The mall closed March 16 after learning a store employee had contracted the virus.

“The health and safety of everyone in the shopping center is our top priority,” the South Coast Plaza’s website states.

The center’s plan gives shoppers a preview of what mall life could be like in the pandemic era.

Operating hours have been shortened, beginning at 11 a.m. and closing at 7 pm, Monday through Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Customers are advised to check individual shops and restaurants to see which ones would be open. Many indoor malls have reopened their shopping halls in the past week, but many merchants were not yet ready for business.

Visitors to South Coast Plaza should bring a face covering or mask. It’s required in the parking lots, to enter the mall and in stores. Costa Mesa and the county both require masks at most indoor facilities open to the public. The mall will offer free masks to customers who need one.

How South Coast Plaza handles its reopening will be carefully watched in the shopping center industry. The mall, which caters to high-end shoppers, is known to be a cutting-edge provider of customer service.

For example, South Coast Plaza’s reopening notice cited a new “state-of-the-art air treatment system” and intensified cleaning efforts, especially in high-touch areas. Hand sanitizer stations are placed in high traffic areas, and mall personnel will help manage social distancing along with signage encouraging visitors to keep 6-feet apart.

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Services such as valet parking and holding packages are shut, but the SCP2GO curbside pickup service remains active. Many common areas where the public gathered are closed, including the popular carousels.

The mall reopens in a tough environment for shopping centers. The pandemic has spooked shoppers — skittish about spending with record-high unemployment — and shattered the finances of many merchants — the folks who pay mall owners’ rents.

Real estate analysts at Green Street Advisors estimated mall operators nationwide collected about 25% of the rent they previously got and “collectability of unpaid rent will be tough.” That’s a key reason why the typical mall’s value has been cut by 25% this year.

It may not get better soon, Green Street wrote, as “retailer rent-paying ability could be impaired for years following this crisis.”

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Trader Joe’s founder Joe Coulombe dies at age 89

Joe Coulombe, a retail visionary who founded the influential Trader Joe’s grocery chain and went on to become a food and wine commentator, amateur painter and Southern California philanthropist, has died.

Coulombe had been in declining health and more recently had been receiving hospice care. He died late Friday evening at his Pasadena home, according to his son who is also named Joe. He was 89.

“We’re going to miss him a lot,” said Joe, who lives in Seattle, Wash., with his wife, Wendy. “I think people are going to remember the wonderful Trader Joe’s concept he put in place, and especially his treatment of his employees. He really cared about them.”

He characterized his father as a Renaissance man who was not only astute at business but a unique thinker and a creator of vibrantly colored paintings who had a child-like interest in the world around him.

“He was always very curious about everything,” he said. “He was a prolific reader. He read all kinds of books — fiction and non-fiction — and when he’d get interested in something he would devour that topic. He was able to tap into trends he saw developing and leverage them.”

Coulombe’s curiosity led to the unique whimsy that holds true today at Trader Joe’s: the employees’ Hawaiian shirts and decor, the quirky catalog of goods and a sophisticated inventory of food priced modestly.


Trader Joe’s has grown to more than 500 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia. (The Press-Enterprise/Carrie Rosema)

Early days

Born June 3, 1930 in San Diego, Coulombe grew up on an avocado ranch in Del Mar where three generations of his family shared a home. He served a year in the Air Force and later attended Stanford University where he received an undergraduate degree in economics and a master’s in business administration in 1954.

Coulombe gained more than an education at Stanford. He met his future wife, Alice Steere, there, too. They married in 1952 when both were graduate students and later settled in Pasadena where they raised three children.

Entering the retail world

Coulombe’s entry into the retail world began in 1958 when he was hired by Rexall Drugs to develop a chain of convenience stores modeled after 7-Eleven. He prepared for that project by working for free at a local grocery store to learn the retail ropes, and by and taking his wife and young son on drives throughout Los Angeles to study the demographics of different neighborhoods.

His son learned his numbers by counting parking spaces at potential store locations.

With Rexall’s backing, Coulombe opened and ran six Pronto Markets in the Los Angeles area. When the company later decided to shutter the stores, Coulombe bought them out instead.

The birth of Trader Joe’s

Pronto Markets continued to operate as convenience stores for another decade, but in the mid-1960s, they were threatened by 7-Eleven’s expansion into California. That prompted Coulombe to re-evaluate his game plan — a process that resulted in the birth of Trader’s Joe’s.

Coulombe wanted to create something different — stores offering a unique mix of products that were reasonably priced. Buoyed by changing demographics, he identified his target market as highly educated but underpaid consumers with sophisticated tastes.

The first Trader Joe’s opened on Arroyo Boulevard in Pasadena in 1967 and is still in operation. Coulombe owned and operated Trader Joe’s privately before selling it to German discount grocery retailer Aldi Nord in 1979.

Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a New York-based retail consulting firm, said Coulombe’s unique strategy worked.

“He saw the power of private brands long before others did, and he also presented a very curated store vibe with the Hawaiian shirts,” he said. “You knew when you walked into a Trader Joe’s that it was unique — not like a Ralph’s or something like that.”

Coulombe also designed and wrote Trader Joe’s advertising catalog, The Fearless Flyer, featuring cartoons and engaging information about featured products.

Company sold

The first Trader Joe’s opened on Arroyo Boulevard in Pasadena in 1967 and is still in operation. Coulombe owned and operated Trader Joe’s privately before selling it to German discount grocery retailer Aldi Nord in 1979.

Leroy Watson has fond memories of Trader Joe’s. He was the first employee hired by Coulombe to serve as a store manager at one of the Pronto Markets, and when Trader Joe’s was launched he was the first company employee there as well. He came on as a store manager and later became senior vice president of operations.

“Joe was marvelous to work for,” said Watson, 87, who now lives in Washington state. “He was an extremely thoughtful person, and he took care of his employees. He made sure they earned good wages and had good benefits and working conditions. I remember I couldn’t wait to get to work each morning.”

Coulombe stayed on as CEO until 1988 when, approaching his 60th birthday, he decided to retire to explore life beyond that as “Trader Joe.” The company had 19 stores then and has since grown to more than 500 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

A template for other grocery chains

Retail analyst Burt Flickinger III said Trader Joe’s became a template for other grocery chains looking to emulate the company’s winning formula.

“John Mackey, Whole Foods’ CEO and co-founder, always said that Trader Joe’s was their toughest competition,” Flickinger said. “A lot of regional food retailers like Bristol Farms and similar chains across the U.S. and Canada tried to imitate certain elements, but none were ever able to duplicate that success.”

Trader Joe’s still retains the unique flavor Coulombe established for the grocery chain and the company has earned scores of loyal customers along the way. Products like Two Buck Chuck wine, avocados, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, frozen Orange chicken, and plantain chips continue to be top sellers.

Later years

In his later years Coulombe sat on a number of corporate boards, including Imperial Bank, Cost Plus World Market, Bristol Farms and True Religion Jeans. He worked steadily until retiring from the board of Cost Plus in 2013 at the age of 83.

“He was involved in a lot of philanthropy,” his son said. “He served on the boards at the Huntington Library, the Colburn School and the Los Angeles Opera. He really liked helping out. We’re going to miss his advice and intellectual curiosity.”

Joe Coulombe is survived by his wife, Alice Steere Coulombe, his three children and their spouses: Joe Coulombe and his wife Wendy of Seattle, Washington; Charlotte Schoenmann and her husband Stuart, of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Madeleine Coulombe and her husband Nigel Simpson, of Melbourne, Australia. He is also survived by six grandchildren: Daniel and Julia Coulombe; Genevieve and Gabriel Schoenmann; and Odette and Valerie Simpson.

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‘A persistent and growing underclass’ in Orange County, report shows

Parents holding down two or three jobs each.

Families doubled and tripled up in cramped apartments.

Underachieving students.

Poor health and nutrition.

A dwindling working-age population.

It is not all bad news, but Orange County’s new Community Indicators Report, an annual study by government agencies, businesses and philanthropies, points to many woes woven into the fabric of the county’s sunny suburbs.

One thread links them all: a calamitous shortage of affordable housing.

“Clearly, homelessness, overcrowding, and family financial instability are directly linked to high housing costs,” warns the 74-page data-rich report released last week.

“But other factors are indirectly linked. When families spend 50% or more of their income on housing, they have less remaining to pay for health care and healthy foods, affecting overall health.

“With parents working two or more jobs to afford housing, they may lack the time to help children with homework or afford after-school enrichment, affecting educational achievement.”

If the housing crisis continues, the report predicts, the result will be “a persistent and growing underclass,” while higher-income residents bear the burden of supporting a swelling elderly population.

“There are two chief ways to tackle the problem of out-of-reach housing in Orange County,” it adds. “Bring earnings up or bring costs down.”

  • Course-taking in career technical programs related to science, technology, engineering and math jumped 40 percent from 2014 to 2016 in Orange County schools. Here, Aliso Niguel High School students Julia Hopkins, left, and Shanice Berry, worked on biotech experiments at a showcase in December 2016 for OC Pathways, a program that focuses on work-based learning. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Course-taking in career technical programs related to science, technology, engineering and math jumped 40 percent from 2014 to 2016 in Orange County schools. Here, Aliso Niguel High School students Julia Hopkins, left, and Shanice Berry, worked on biotech experiments at a showcase in December 2016 for OC Pathways, a program that focuses on work-based learning. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • As Miguel Hernandez steers, his fellow students Lizbeth Gomez and Rudy Martin Del Campo showed off Century High School’s solar powered vehicle at a December 2016 showcase for OC Pathways, a career-based program for students in 14 Orange County school districts. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    As Miguel Hernandez steers, his fellow students Lizbeth Gomez and Rudy Martin Del Campo showed off Century High School’s solar powered vehicle at a December 2016 showcase for OC Pathways, a career-based program for students in 14 Orange County school districts. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Brandon Bock, left, and Jason Ayala from McFadden Intermediate School in Santa Ana, guided their robotic vehicles at a December 2016 showcase for OC Pathways, a state funded program which encourages students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math-related subjects. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Brandon Bock, left, and Jason Ayala from McFadden Intermediate School in Santa Ana, guided their robotic vehicles at a December 2016 showcase for OC Pathways, a state funded program which encourages students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math-related subjects. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The landscaping and barbecue area on the second floor at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The landscaping and barbecue area on the second floor at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The 70-unit Clark Commons affordable family apartments was built at the at the corner of Orangethorpe and Stanton Avenues in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The 70-unit Clark Commons affordable family apartments was built at the at the corner of Orangethorpe and Stanton Avenues in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The 70-unit Clark Commons affordable family apartments was built at the at the corner of Orangethorpe and Stanton Avenues in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The 70-unit Clark Commons affordable family apartments was built at the at the corner of Orangethorpe and Stanton Avenues in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The the laundry room is one of the amenities offered at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The the laundry room is one of the amenities offered at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The bike storage area left, and fitness center, right, are two of the many amenities offered at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The bike storage area left, and fitness center, right, are two of the many amenities offered at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The game is one of the amenities offered to residents at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The game is one of the amenities offered to residents at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The second floor outdoor playground at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The second floor outdoor playground at the Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The fitness center is one of the amenities offered to residents Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The fitness center is one of the amenities offered to residents Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The computer lab is one of the amenities offered to residents Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The room is used for children to do their homework or learn English. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The computer lab is one of the amenities offered to residents Clark Commons affordable family apartments family apartments project in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The room is used for children to do their homework or learn English. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The 70-unit Clark Commons affordable family apartments was built at the at the corner of Orangethorpe and Stanton Avenues in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The 70-unit Clark Commons affordable family apartments was built at the at the corner of Orangethorpe and Stanton Avenues in Buena Park on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Clark Commons, a 70-unit low-income housing project in Buena Park, has a playground and a cmputer center. It was built on the site of a blighted retail center. The city provided $7.7 million in loans to Jamboree Housing Corp., a non-profit developer. (Courtesy Juan Tallo)

    Clark Commons, a 70-unit low-income housing project in Buena Park, has a playground and a cmputer center. It was built on the site of a blighted retail center. The city provided $7.7 million in loans to Jamboree Housing Corp., a non-profit developer. (Courtesy Juan Tallo)

  • Bobbi Smith,15, uses the free wifi to do her homework at Clark Commons, a low-income housing project in Buena Park. More than 2,500 families are on the waiting list for the 70-unit complex, which opened in February 2017, with the help of city loans. (Courtesy Juan Tallo)

    Bobbi Smith,15, uses the free wifi to do her homework at Clark Commons, a low-income housing project in Buena Park. More than 2,500 families are on the waiting list for the 70-unit complex, which opened in February 2017, with the help of city loans. (Courtesy Juan Tallo)

  • At Buena Park’s Clark Commons, a 70-unit low income housing project, a resident coordinator helps children with homework. The waiting list for apartments includes 2,500 families. (Courtesy Juan Tallo)

    At Buena Park’s Clark Commons, a 70-unit low income housing project, a resident coordinator helps children with homework. The waiting list for apartments includes 2,500 families. (Courtesy Juan Tallo)

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Some good news

The report notes several positive trends:

— At 3.7 percent, the jobless rate is lower than that of California or the U.S. In 14 of 19 high-tech industries, its employment concentration is higher than the national average.

— At 5.4 percent, the overall high school dropout rate is lower than the state’s 9.8 percent. Course-taking in career technical education related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jumped 40 percent over two years.

— The proportion of residents without health insurance sank to 9 percent in 2015 from 17 percent in 2013, in the wake of the federal Affordable Care Act. The number of poor children with health insurance grew by 40 percent.

— While many communities resist affordable housing projects, a few are being built with city governments’ support, including in Yorba Linda and Buena Park.

We are losing our millennials and Zers,” Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, a trade group for the county’s largest companies, told a group of 150 executives and government officials at an Orange County Forum gathering last week.

“Cities: you have to say yes to housing…We need city council people not be afraid of the next election.”

Disturbing data

Among the report’s troubling trends:

— To afford a median-priced, one-bedroom rental unit, an hourly wage of $27.62 is needed. Yet 68 percent of Orange County jobs pay below that.

— Orange County’s cost of living is almost double the U.S. average (87% higher). Housing costs are 356% higher than the national average.

— Residents 65 and older are the only group projected to grow proportionate to other age groups in the next 25 years.

— 48 percent of children are not developmentally ready for kindergarten

–Nearly 60,000 households are on waiting lists for government rental assistance.

Michael Ruane, an affordable housing executive who was the county’s project director on its first indicators report 17 years ago, said the data show “there are two Orange Counties.

“What’s striking is the enormous variation. You have poverty in a prosperous region. You have a knowledge economy with high wages, and a tourism economy with lower wages.”

Low pay, high costs

Tourism jobs—some 200,000—make up one of the biggest sectors in the county, along with business and professional positions, and healthcare and social services employment.

But jobs in theme parks, hotels and restaurants pay far less than other large sectors: $24,300 a year on average, with thousands of workers making the minimum wage of $10.50 an hour or slightly above.

Anaheim, home to Disneyland, Orange County’s largest employer with 28,000 workers, is one of the poorest cities in the county, the report notes, with its highest high school drop-out rate (11.5 percent).

Racial and ethnic disparities are stark.

Latinos, on track to grow from 35 percent to 40 percent of the county’s population over the next two decades, experience far more poverty, less access to health care and worse educational results than non-Latino whites (42 percent of the population) or Asians (19 percent).

“Parents work two and three jobs, even on weekends, to make ends meet,” said Al Mijares, county superintendent of schools.

“I know parents who board early buses in Santa Ana to work at south county eateries. They get home late in the evening. So kids are unsupervised. No one can help with homework.”

Adding to the stress, he said, is “overcrowding. There may not be a bed for every member of the household. There may be no place to study.”

Youngest fall behind

The report makes no policy recommendations, but Mijares, whose department is one of the report’s sponsors, said publicly-funded universal pre-kindergarten would be the single biggest boost to educational success.

Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma have enacted statewide pre-K programs, but California has yet to fund a comprehensive program.

Kimberly Goll, executive director of the local Children and Families Commission, said Orange County is the first in California to measure and track factors affecting kindergarten readiness in all its school districts.

Among the 48 percent who enter kindergarten unprepared, some lack motor skills—too much screen time, not enough crayons and physical play, according to some experts. Others lack emotional and cognitive development.

“It is scary that half of our kids are not ready to start kindergarten,” Goll said. “It is well documented that they are then more likely to drop out of high school. They are more likely to become teen parents. They are more likely never to attend college. They are more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.”

Last year, a third of Orange County eleventh graders failed to meet state literacy standards, while 57 percent failed in math.

Still, efforts are ramping up to prepare students for higher-paid jobs requiring STEM skills. Thanks to a state grant, 14,000 high schoolers participate in OC Pathways, a program offering courses and industry contacts in three areas:  Health Care/Biotechnology, Engineering/Advanced Manufacturing and Information Technology/Digital Media.

Vocational education has changed, Mijares said. “For instance, automobiles have become complex, with sophisticated computers under the dash. You need to be an engineer to understand what’s going on.”

More elderly, fewer workers

If demographics are destiny, then the county’s population trends are daunting.

“Families are migrating to other parts of the state and country that boast cheaper housing and lower costs of living,” according to the report. “For the workforce that remains…the social burden of supporting the growing older adult population will fall on them and them alone.”

The age 65-and-older group will grow from 14 percent today to 26 percent of the population by 2040, the report predicts. The number of working-age residents for each dependent (children and the elderly) will shrink from two to one.

“The fewer people of working age, the fewer there are to sustain schools, pensions and other supports to the youngest and oldest members of a population,” the report notes.

Turning malls into housing

Cities often prefer retail development, which brings in sales tax revenue, to multifamily housing, which sparks political opposition.

Even luxury housing is controversial: in March the Newport Beach City Council rescinded its approval of a 25-story project for million-dollar condominiums after opponents threatened a referendum.

Steve PonTell, CEO and President of National Community Renaissance (National CORE), a non-profit affordable housing developer, called on employers at the forum event to “see themselves as being in the housing business.”

Hospitals, for instance, should “have hundreds of units of apartments in conjunction with their facilities,” he added.

Open land is scarce, but as shopping centers begin to retrench under the e-commerce onslaught, struggling retail areas can be converted to housing, the report suggests. “Underutilized retail corridors may be the only viable option for increasing the supply,” said Ruane, who heads an Urban Land Institute initiative to assess the potential.

In Yorba Linda, National CORE, where Ruane serves as executive vice president, built Oakcrest Terrace, a 69-apartment complex for low-income families on the site of a former car dealership. The city contributed about 20% of the funding.

In February, Jamboree Housing Corp., an Irvine nonprofit, opened Clark Commons, a 70-apartment complex for low-income families on the former site of a city maintenance yard and blighted retail center in Buena Park. The city contributed $7.7 million in loans.

One testament to the housing shortage: Clark Commons has a waiting list of 2,500 families.

Homes for the well-off

Orange County’s home building 2014-2015 was mostly for higher incomes.

To buy a home

Only 43 percent of first-time buyers have the necessary income ($92,000/year) to qualify for buying an entry-level home, down from 52 percent in 2009.

To rent a home

In Orange County, a $28/hour wage is needed to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Cost of living

Orange County is 87 percent more expensive than the national average.

Homeless students

More than 28,000 students are homeless, doubled-up or tripled up with other families.

Education

Under 30 percent of poor students meet state math standards. Under 40 percent meet literacy standards.

*Live in hotels, motels, shelters or unsheltered
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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The Planet Fitness of dry cleaners, ZIPS, to open 110 locations in Southern California

  • Greenbelt, MD-based ZIPS is opening its first stores in Southern California.

    Greenbelt, MD-based ZIPS is opening its first stores in Southern California.

  • ZIPS Dry Cleaners, the Planet Fitness of dry cleaning, charges a flat rate for any garment. The chain recently opened its first Orange County location in Costa Mesa. (Courtesy ZIPS)

    ZIPS Dry Cleaners, the Planet Fitness of dry cleaning, charges a flat rate for any garment. The chain recently opened its first Orange County location in Costa Mesa. (Courtesy ZIPS)

  • ZIPS Dry Cleaners, the Planet Fitness of dry cleaning, recently opened the first of 110 locations planned for Southern California. (Courtesy ZIPS)

    ZIPS Dry Cleaners, the Planet Fitness of dry cleaning, recently opened the first of 110 locations planned for Southern California. (Courtesy ZIPS)

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ZIPS Dry Cleaners, the Planet Fitness of dry cleaning, recently opened the first of 110 locations planned for Southern California.

The Maryland-based concept aims to do for dry cleaning what Planet Fitness did to the gym industry by offering an inexpensive, flat price for its services. Whether it’s a necktie, a wedding dress or a collared shirt, the no-frills dry cleaning chain charges $2.29 per garment. ZIPS maintains its price is three times less expensive than the industry average.

The company also offers same-day service for garments dropped in by 9 a.m. The first local store opened May 5 at 3010 Bristol Street in Costa Mesa. It’s the first of roughly 30 stores planned for Orange County by Los Angeles-based ZDry, a franchisee that owns the rights to build the brand in Southern California.

ZDry also owns and operates 10 Planet Fitness gyms in the Los Angeles area, with several more under development.

Shawn Bishop, a managing partner at ZDry, said 20 years ago before Planet Fitness changed the gym landscape, consumers didn’t blink an eye when they were charged $50 or more for their monthly gym membership.

“Today, ZIPS is doing the same in their industry,” Bishop said. “Everyone needs dry cleaning in some capacity. The real question customers should ask themselves is, ‘Would I rather pay $50-$60 for 10 pieces to be dry cleaned, or $23 for the same 10 pieces and have it done in one day?’”

At ZIPS, the company said its garments are cleaned in a closed-cleaning system that reduces waste, uses biodegradable plastic bags and recycles hangers.

The first ZIPS stores were founded in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area in 1996. Today the chain operates more than 50 stores in six states.

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Five Below: Why is this bargain retailer rushing to California?

  • Sweet tooth? You can satisfy it here at Aliso Viejo’s Five Below where everything is $5 or less. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Sweet tooth? You can satisfy it here at Aliso Viejo’s Five Below where everything is $5 or less. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Joel Anderson, the CEO of Five Below, a fast-growing chain from Philadelphia that’s making the splashy debut. He is an Orange County native and graduated from Fountain Valley High School. His professional career included work at Toys r Us and heading up Wal-Mart’s online shopping operations. Did I mention his Harvard MBA?

    Joel Anderson, the CEO of Five Below, a fast-growing chain from Philadelphia that’s making the splashy debut. He is an Orange County native and graduated from Fountain Valley High School. His professional career included work at Toys r Us and heading up Wal-Mart’s online shopping operations. Did I mention his Harvard MBA?

  • Aliso Viejo residents Paula Campos, 11, plays hardball during a soft opening with sister Regina, 9, and their friend Piper Hubbard, 10. The girls loved the crafts at Five Below in Aliso Viejo. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Aliso Viejo residents Paula Campos, 11, plays hardball during a soft opening with sister Regina, 9, and their friend Piper Hubbard, 10. The girls loved the crafts at Five Below in Aliso Viejo. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A set of decorate wooden hooks at $5 at Five Below in Aliso Viejo. The new store mark the companyÕs first West Coast locations, bringing its reach to approximately 550 stores in 32 states. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A set of decorate wooden hooks at $5 at Five Below in Aliso Viejo. The new store mark the companyÕs first West Coast locations, bringing its reach to approximately 550 stores in 32 states. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Ciro Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel tours Five Below with 8-month-old daughter Tania whose less interested in commerce than playing with dad at the Aliso Viejo location. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ciro Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel tours Five Below with 8-month-old daughter Tania whose less interested in commerce than playing with dad at the Aliso Viejo location. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Ciro Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel says Five Below is an upscale dollar store. He tries to get 8-month-old daughter Tania interested in toys with no luck at the Aliso Viejo location. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ciro Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel says Five Below is an upscale dollar store. He tries to get 8-month-old daughter Tania interested in toys with no luck at the Aliso Viejo location. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Graciela Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel, from left, tries to entice 8-month-old daughter Tania with a hint pinwheel as husband Ciro watches at value retailer Five Below which is set to launch nine new stores in the region. Everything is $5 or less. The retailer will simultaneously open at 10:00 a.m. Friday, April 21st in Aliso Viejo, pictured, Anaheim, Compton, Hawthorne, Montebello, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, South Gate and Redlands. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Graciela Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel, from left, tries to entice 8-month-old daughter Tania with a hint pinwheel as husband Ciro watches at value retailer Five Below which is set to launch nine new stores in the region. Everything is $5 or less. The retailer will simultaneously open at 10:00 a.m. Friday, April 21st in Aliso Viejo, pictured, Anaheim, Compton, Hawthorne, Montebello, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, South Gate and Redlands. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Aalue retailer Five Below which is set to launch nine new stores in the region. Everything is $5 or less. The retailer will simultaneously open at 10:00 a.m. Friday, April 21st in Aliso Viejo, pictured, Anaheim, Compton, Hawthorne, Montebello, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, South Gate and Redlands. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Aalue retailer Five Below which is set to launch nine new stores in the region. Everything is $5 or less. The retailer will simultaneously open at 10:00 a.m. Friday, April 21st in Aliso Viejo, pictured, Anaheim, Compton, Hawthorne, Montebello, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, South Gate and Redlands. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Ciro Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel tours Five Below with 8-month-old daughter Tania, who’s less interested in commerce than playing with dad at the Aliso Viejo location. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ciro Brudagljo of Laguna Niguel tours Five Below with 8-month-old daughter Tania, who’s less interested in commerce than playing with dad at the Aliso Viejo location. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Value retailer Five Below, which is set to launch nine stores in the region. Everything is $5 or less. The retailer will open at 10 a.m. Friday, April 21, in Aliso Viejo, pictured; Anaheim, Compton, Hawthorne, Montebello, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, South Gate and Redlands. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Value retailer Five Below, which is set to launch nine stores in the region. Everything is $5 or less. The retailer will open at 10 a.m. Friday, April 21, in Aliso Viejo, pictured; Anaheim, Compton, Hawthorne, Montebello, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, South Gate and Redlands. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Brick-and-mortar merchants seem to be dying.

And teen-targeted retailing is even more troubled.

And California, as certain logic goes, isn’t the greatest place in the world to do business.

So, what is a discount retailer with a youthful audience doing opening 12 stores in a month in Southern California with plans to make the state its top market?

“We couldn’t be more excited to come to California,” says Joel Anderson, the CEO of Five Below, a fast-growing chain from Philadelphia that’s making the splashy debut. “It’s a perfect opportunity. There are no worries on our end about California.”

It’s a curious shopping concept. Dare I say, a fancier dollar store where nothing costs more than $5. Hence, its name.

Selling goes on in a setting that’s bright and a bit loud, much like the vibe of other teen-targeted stores. The products include arty household goods, assorted knickknacks, electronic gadgetry, sportswear, beach toys and snacks — with much of it seemingly perfect for gift-giving. Well, at least to these middle-aged shopper’s eyes. Plus, there’s a healthy supply of plugs and chargers for mobile devices that always seem to get misplaced!

So, why the big jump to California when the previous most-Western store was in Oklahoma? Stores opened in April in Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Compton, Fontana, Hawthorne, Montebello, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands and South Gate. Openings in San Dimas, Lancaster and South Fontana are slated for May.

Well, it probably helps that the CEO knows California. Anderson is an Orange County native and graduated from Fountain Valley High School. His professional career included work at Toys r Us and heading up Wal-Mart’s online shopping operations. Did I mention his Harvard MBA?

Five Below plans to roughly quadruple from its current 549 stores to roughly 2,000 at its peak. Anderson believes California will become this chain’s No. 1 market, usurping Texas.

He sees only one noteworthy headache growing in California: “Our biggest challenge is finding centers that have space for us.”

Five Below’s chainwide sales grew 20 percent last year to $1 billion, though one sign of the tough retailing environment: sales at existing stores grew by only 2 percent. Profits rose 24 percent to $72 million.

To me, a veteran bargain hunter, Five Below has a reasonable chance at success.

For one, $5 is a much more logical price point for discount stores. Let’s face it, many dollar stores now sell stuff for more than a buck.

Plus, Five Below has an entertainment quotient – making the time in the store relatively pleasant. Of course, Five Below executives may need a map. It bugged this consumer to see the Anaheim store last week stocked with items emblazoned with icons of Los Angeles and Dallas and the logo of – boo! – hockey’s LA Kings.

The fate of in-store shopping has yet to be determined. But I have to agree with CEO Anderson when he said, “To be successful you have got to offer value and you have got to offer a great store experience.”

If the time a shopper spends in a store isn’t functional or fun, online purchasing will win out. Perhaps, Five Below has a solution.

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