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Malls pin hopes on Games visitors

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From the latest clothing, souvenir pins, works of art and historic mementos to ? no kidding ? a Jell-O museum, Salt Lake's downtown malls are ready to fill the eyes of Olympic visitors with all things Utahn and American.

Whether mall stores also help visitors empty their pockets remains to be seen.

Despite reports of disappointing retail sales from past Olympic host cities, Crossroads Plaza, ZCMI Center, Trolley Square and The Gateway malls are preparing to put their best feet forward come Feb. 8.

"Our whole perspective on it is we don't expect a lot of sales, but we want to make a good impression," said Melissa Wayment, marketing director for ZCMI Center.

Like its neighbor Crossroads Plaza, the mall's food court will be open until midnight to accommodate cold Medals Plaza wanderers, and mall merchants will have the option of doing the same.

"We just want to be a gathering place where people can come in and warm themselves," Wayment said. "From what we've heard sales will probably not increase. I think our food court will do quite well, and our restrooms will be quite busy."

"We sit among all these hotels, and sooner or later all these people are going to want a souvenir," said Crossroads marketing director Sarah Darke, predicting impulse buying. "Speaking to some people in Nagano, they were saying people were just coming off the street and wanting a warm coat or gloves. So it's just very, very hard to predict."

Both malls will be festooned with directional signs and decorations, a bevy of uniformed mall greeters to answer questions and visitor-oriented displays. Olympic sponsor Visa has provided a series of free multi-size "You've got what it takes" Games-themed banners to merchants and has issued an exclusive Olympic pin for the two malls for customers who spend $50 or more on their Visa credit cards.

For added drawing power, comic Bill Cosby will visit the ZCMI Center Feb. 6 to inaugurate a museum devoted to Jell-O, a perennial Utah favorite in all its forms and colors, with or without cottage cheese or carrots.

"We're kind of a more Utah mall, and Jell-O is just kind of a Utah thing," Wayment said, explaining the mall was contacted by Jell-O maker Kraft Foods about hosting the exhibit through the Olympics.

Elsewhere in both malls shoppers can buy Godiva chocolates tied with red, white and blue patriotic bows or officially sanctioned Olympic Salt Water Taffy made locally. Many merchants reported hiring employees fluent in a second language. Olympic pins and memorabilia will be available in quantity at all locations.

Those wanting a pricier souvenir can stop by Masseys Jewelers in Crossroads for official Olympic watches by Seiko and Pulsar, charms, statuettes or limited-edition licensed bronzes costing up to $640. Two television sets will be broadcasting Games events in Masseys, and the first 1,000 visitors will receive a Salt Lake Olympic pin.

"We always stock our stores very heavily, so we're not worried we've overstocked," said Masseys general manager Paul Sawaya. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing and it's here, so you might as well get involved."

The San Francisco Music Box Co. is stocking up on sentimental favorites that foreign visitors are likely to associate with the United States, such as "Phantom of the Opera" or "Gone With the Wind" themed music boxes. The store will devote an entire window display to Snoopy ? especially popular with Japanese visitors, said store manager Chantelle Jones.

"It's been a challenge knowing what to do," said Seasons gift shop owner Debi Brady. Brady has tried to stock her store with a decidedly Utah theme, favoring all things beehive, ski or handcart pioneer-themed, which turned out to be a difficult task.

"It's been tough," she said, adding that she has been leery of overstocking. "I wanted to go a different route . . . kind of give them an idea of what we're all about."

Shopping hours will remain the same a few blocks down at The Gateway, where merchants seemed unconcerned about attracting visitors to the hip, outdoor mall.

"I'm sure we won't need to do that," predicted J. Crew store manager Jenny Wong. "We'll have so much traffic."

Retailers at Trolley Square, where mall hours will remain unchanged, are less sure what to expect despite a trolley shuttle running shoppers in from the nearest TRAX stop. Mall decor will not change dramatically other than individual store displays.

"We use them for Halloween; they think we wear them," chuckled the Children's Garden store employee April Nelson, referring to planned pint-sized Western wear window displays aimed at foreign visitors.

"We're focusing more on the local people than on the Olympic crowd," said Brookstone manager Ryan Dallon. "You don't really come to the Olympics and say, 'Oh, I need an air hockey table to take back.' "

Dallon's view was echoed by Atlanta officials at a recent Olympics-preparation seminar, Crossroads Plaza's Darke noted.

"One of the things they emphasized was, 'Don't forget the locals,' " she said. "Let's not forget, after 17 days, that's who's still going to be here."

E-mail: moneill@desnews.com