Santa Monica Place
One of the side benefits of the massive winter storm we had a few weeks back was getting "stranded' in Los Angeles and London. While "idle hands may be the devil's tools", at McMillanDoolittle that just means more time to go and visit stores.
And while we are always fascinated with new retail concepts and stores, the malls that they are housed in have become so increasingly vanilla that they hardly merit a look. The story in the shopping center industry is the same as many others--consolidation, scale, efficiency=blandness.
There are exceptions to the rule and we visited three amazing centers (separated by a lot of geography) more or less back to back to back. The Grove and Santa Monica Place are two bright spots in Southern California and the Westfield Center in Shepherd's Bush in London represents an extraordinary shopping center achievement.
Desigual--The hot Spanish retailer at Westfield
When trying to distill common elements from these very different properties, we summarize a few of the key elements as follows:
Great Stores. This should go without saying but the hallmark of a great shopping center begins with the tenant mix. The old formula for a shopping center would consist of three to four main anchor tenants and then "fill in the rest". The one common point of these centers is that they are decidely not defined by anchors. While there is some good anchors here and there at these centers, they are better defined by an interesting mix of smaller retailers. Increasingly, the retail landscape is defined by global brands that bringing news and freshness to centers. Nike, AllSaints, Apple (of course), Anthropologie are just a few of the standouts.
Great Entertainment Options. All three centers work as great places to hang out, offering a number of casual dining options to full sit down variety. Restaurant Row at Westfield is a destination unto itself. What is clear is that the "food court" has become a bit anachronistic as options become spread throughout the space. Santa Monica Place will add a "Market" feature shortly to bring more food specialists into the fold.
Segmented Offerings. It certainly helps to be reasonably new and build natural destination centers within a greater space. Grouping luxury retailers in one space, teen retailers within another and kid's retail in their own zones helps shoppers naturally find stores of interest. The retailers, too, benefit from proximity of their own targeted customers.
Great Space. The Grove and Santa Monica Place have the advantage of being open air facilities in a great geography. Westfield in London faces a decidely different challenge. Yet, all have utilized high ceilings to create a sense of space within the stores, ample public meeting spaces and room to freely roam.
Natural Proximity. The Grove naturally feeds into the iconic Los Angeles Farmer's Market, Santa Monica Place into well-established street retail and Westfield into a huge transportation hub. No accident that great centers also offer great adjacent draws.
These centers certainly have their unique elements. They also contain some lessons for existing centers as well as new developments underway. Hopefully, they will no longer be anomalies in the future.