DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - After decades of sitting vacant, a space that once held a bustling Broadway department store is back in the retail business.
Ross Dress for Less held its grand opening ceremony on the morning of Saturday, March 9. It was quickly filled with customers looking for discount clothes, shoes and household items.
“People have been waiting for this store,” said 14th District City Councilman José Huizar, who helped attract Ross through his 10-year Bringing Back Broadway initiative. “I think it’s going to be highly successful.
The 39,000-square-foot store is at 719 S. Broadway. Although many restaurants have opened on the street as part of Huizar’s revitalization effort, this is the first national retailer to return to the historic corridor that once boasted outlets for the Broadway, Bullocks and May Company.
“Ross will bring the types of additional foot traffic that we like to see both at daytime and nighttime,” Huizar said. “The retailer also speaks to the different demographics and income levels in Downtown L.A.”
Ross opened in the space that the Woolworth Department Store had occupied starting in 1920. The building was designed by Weeks & Day. The Art Deco-style façade of the structure was constructed in 1941 when an adjoining edifice was incorporated into the building.
The store occupies the basement and ground floor. The Pleasanton, Calif.-based company, which did nor respond to requests for comment, signed a 10-year lease. It has the option of expanding into the two upper floors of the three-story edifice.
Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association and the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, sees Ross’ arrival as an important step in Downtown’s retail evolution.
“This is great for Downtown, especially considering where we were coming from not that long ago, which was almost no retail at all,” she said.
Schatz said she expects Ross to do well in Downtown, which could attract other national retailers. Although the store is a discount chain, Schatz said it adds to a good mix of shops that are opening in the community.
She noted the presence of higher-end boutiques such as Brigade, which opened on Seventh Street about a year ago, and The Well, a clothing store and salon that arrived in South Park late last year.
“We need to see all kinds of different retail focusing on different price points and income levels. That’s what makes a vibrant city,” Schatz said.
Huizar agreed that having Ross in Downtown could send an important message to other retailers. He noted that some chains have avoided Downtown and Broadway because they feel that historic structures don’t fit the needs of 21st century department stores.
Huizar said the Bringing Back Broadway team overcame that hurdle by working closely with Ross on navigating the complex city permitting process.
“We made it as easy and convenient as possible for them to locate here,” Huizar said.
Dressed to Impress
The exterior of the building now sports a blue Ross Dress for Less sign above a row of street-front glass windows.
In an homage to Broadway’s heyday as a shopping zone, the store also has a large, vertical “blade” sign that runs from the roof to just above the first floor. It incorporates neon lighting, which is turned on at night.
The interior has the uniform look of other Ross stores, with blue and white walls and rows of clothing on racks covering an open floor design.
However, some elements of the store’s past were retained.
The two historic staircases with wood railings at each side of the store were restored. There are also escalators and elevators to take customers to the basement.
“They saved what they could and I loved that,” said Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, who attended the grand opening.
There are also some nods to Downtown inside the store.
The first floor holds an image of the old Woolworth store with its yellow and red vertical blade sign. Nearby there is postcard-style writing on the wall with the words “Greetings from Los Angeles.” Inside the fat letters are various images of the city, including City Hall. The basement has another black and white picture of the original Downtown Woolworth’s.
Ross operates more than 1,000 stores in 33 states. The Downtown store created 50 full and part-time jobs.
Contact Richard Guzmán at email@example.com.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.