Ross Dress For Less celebrated its opening in Historic Downtown LA on Saturday, becoming the first major U.S. clothing store to open on Broadway in decades.
The 39,000 square foot retail space is in a former Woolworth's department store that opened in 1920, back when Broadway was a bustling retail hub.
As freeways and suburban shopping malls lured shoppers and retailers away in recent years, the area has fallen into disrepair with broken sidewalks and a number of vacant retail buildings.
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar said the Ross opening will bring shoppers back to Historic Downtown LA and help revitalize the area. Ross has hired 50 employees at the store.
"It's fitting that the historic Woolworth's building, which was so beloved by Angelenos in years gone by, will now provide a new retail destination for modern day Downtown residents, workers and shoppers," Huizar said.
Retail vacancy rate down in Historic Downtown L.A.
About five years ago, Huizar launched a decade-long initiative called Bringing Back Broadway, aimed at bringing more retailers to the area. So far, the effort has brought in businesses including the Ace Hotel, Figaro Bistro and Alma Restaurant. Huizar said his group has helped reduce the area's vacancy rate from 20 percent in 2008 to about 15 percent now.
Trendy retailer Urban Outfitters has also had discussions on possibly opening a store on Broadway, Huizar said.
Sara Lundquist said she was thrilled that the Ross opened two blocks away from where she lives. She normally shops at the Ross and Target in Santa Ana, where she works as a vice president for student services at Santa Ana College.
"I'm crazy about it. I've been so excited for it to open," Lundquist said. "It fits in perfectly with the neighborhood, but it offers something we've really been missing. It's a one-stop value shop here at Ross for everyone who lives downtown."
Lundquist shopped at Ross during the store's "soft opening" on Friday, spending $100 on a swimsuit and clothes. On Saturday, she planned to spend $100 more.
The end for mom-and-pop retailers on Broadway?
Ross' space used to be partly occupied by Foot Locker, but Ross is a formidable competitor, selling discounted clothing and accessories. Broadway is home to several jewelry stores, and small businesses like Family Pants, which sells Levis and other clothing brands.
Family Pants owner Ali Kasfy said he and other retailers on Historic Broadway have doubts about whether a downtown Ross can bring in enough shoppers to succeed. Sales are down more than 40 percent at his store compared to last year, Kasfy said.
"Things have changed. Broadway is not what it used to be," Kasfy said.
But on Friday, Kasfy said he was amazed by the hundreds of shoppers that got off buses heading to Historic Downtown LA just to shop at the Ross. Many were from outside the neighborhood and only a few of those shoppers entered his store, Kasfy said.
Kasfy's family got into the clothing business in 1977, after they immigrated from Lebanon. They worked their way up, selling clothes at a swap meet, to five retail stores. Now, Kasfy hands out business cards with all of the addresses crossed out—except for his one remaining shop on Broadway, located right next to the new Ross store.
"It's been slow, but Ross showed up and we're hoping things might pick up," Kasfy said. "But we feel that we're too small. Perhaps the consumer now just likes to shop at Ross, or The Children's Place or Gap. I think these are the people in the future in the clothing business."
Huizar said he believes the Ross will bring more customers to the area, including his wife Richelle. She usually shops at the Ross in Pasadena, but now she can go to Historic Downtown LA store, he said.
"There's enough space for everyone," Huizar said. "Whenever you bring in businesses, it only helps the businesses already here. They need more foot traffic."
Ross is located on 719 S. Broadway, a block away from Clifton's Cafeteria, the famous L.A. eatery that will reopen this year after an extensive restoration.