Can Puente Hills mall make a comeback?


Marlene Cordova

Some customers and workers at Puente Hills Mall say they’re worried about its future. Photos for photo illustration by Marlene Cordova

Everyone likes a comeback story.

If vacancies and interviews with customers and workers at Puente Hills Mall are any indication, the shopping complex needs just that.

“Slowly, business is declining, not just our store but everywhere… I don’t know what’s going to happen to this mall. It’s a little scary, a little daunting,” said Alice Chiu, an associate of Tiny DIY, an arts and crafts shop in the mall. She added that the need for specialty stores seems to have declined in recent years.

A recent visit to Puente Hills Mall in the city of Industry revealed roughly ten available shop spaces. Retailers and restaurants that appear to have shut down including Forever 21, Victoria Secret, Sears, Footaction, Cinnabon and McDonalds.

Will sprucing up the mall make a difference? That’s the hope, say some employees.

The mall’s office administrator, Monica Madrigal, described some of the planned renovations.

“The closing of Forever 21 and other stores does not affect the mall renovation. We are still moving forward with plans for Phase 1, which is the food court portion as well as a complete interior refresh. The indoor-outdoor promenade is part of Phase 2 and we won’t have a set date for that as of yet. We hope to turn the mall into a more experiential space with more food offerings combined with our existing theatre and Round One,” she said in an email.

Still, some longtime customers fear history is repeating itself. Decades ago, after the shuttering of JCPenney, “Puente Hills mall was near obsolescence. The 1.2 million sq. ft. center had lost its Broadway department store when the chain closed its doors, and many of the other tenants had left as well,” according to a 1996 National Real Estate Investor article.

Just a couple of years ago, the mall had proposed expanding its footprint by more than 80,000 square feet, according to a report about the project by the mall owners and others and a plan submitted in 2017 under the California Environmental Quality Act on the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research website.

A city of Industry planning official said he’s unaware of any existing plans to expand and previous mall managers referred questions to the owners, who could not be reached.

According to a 2019 Washington Post article, traditional malls around the country are facing a decline in consumer interest as the convenience of online shopping has increased. Malls that are not taking initiative in creating a unique environment are suffering.

Shoppers wonder, if national retailers with loyal customers have shut down, what are the chances of success for lesser-known mom-and-pop shops in the mall?

“I’m not exactly sure what caused such changes [at the mall] or if there is any solution to revitalize” it, shared Jin Park of neighboring Hacienda Heights late last year. “Probably many things like so many other newer malls have been built, online shopping” led to the decline.

The customer noticed the recent renovations and hoped for the best, for the mall to “become vibrant and successful again.”

Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected].