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Lessons From LA’s Hottest Retail Destinations

By carefully curating a selection of emerging retailers, buzzy restaurants and lifestyle offerings, the most popular shopping centres in Los Angeles prove that the mall is alive and well.
Inside Platform Los Angeles shopping center.
Platform is a 75,000-square-foot shopping centre in Culver City that's almost entirely hidden from street view. (Platform)

Key insights

  • Los Angeles is dotted with thriving brick-and-mortar retail concepts mostly built in the last two-plus decades even as hundreds of malls closed nationwide.
  • At the city’s busiest shopping centres, it can take months, or even years for brands to snare a vacant storefront.
  • These outdoor developments are popular because they provide a compelling mix of food and beverage tenants, specialty retail that subverts traditional mall staples like Victoria’s Secret or the Gap, and event programming that gets shoppers to come back again and again.

In Los Angeles, there is an oft-cited myth that there are more visitors to The Grove than to Disneyland.

“That’s probably not true,” a spokesperson for Caruso, the developer behind the outdoor shopping centre in central LA, told BoF. (After this article was published, a Caruso spokesperson clarified that the data regarding whether The Grove is more popular than Disneyland has not been verified.)

Still, it feels true: The Grove is immensely popular with both Southern California natives and tourists, and is living proof that malls aren’t dead.

Los Angeles is in fact dotted with thriving brick-and-mortar retail concepts mostly built in the last two-plus decades even as hundreds of malls closed nationwide. The modernised Brentwood Country Mart is notable for having the first permanent Goop store. The Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge touts LA’s most talked-about retailer as an anchor tenant: Erewhon Market. Platform, a 75,000-square-foot shopping alcove in Culver City, is almost entirely hidden from street view. And The Grove really does feel like an amusement park, with its own trolly system and dancing water fountain.

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At the city’s busiest shopping centres, it can take months, or even years for brands to snare a vacant storefront. And even when a space opens up, their landlords can be judicious about the quality of tenants, often opting for new and differentiated brands over large retailers like Gap and Victoria’s Secret.

If you go, you make a whole day out of it. We park, we shop, we hang out.

It’s a stark contrast to the struggling malls and retailers that have yet to adapt to shifting consumer lifestyles. More often than not, these malls typically share the same blueprint, with enormous department store anchors and the same stable of dated chains.

Foot traffic numbers demonstrate that people prefer these new modes of shopping over traditional malls. According to Placer.ai, there were over 605,000 visits to The Grove in April — that’s compared to 158,500 visits to the Beverly Center indoor mall just a mile west, despite that the Beverly Center is, in fact, a luxury mall, with tenants like Balenciaga, Prada and Golden Goose.

There are successful outdoor retail developments outside LA, such as Highland Park Village in Dallas and Old Orchard in Skokie, Illinois. But what is it about Los Angeles that so regularly turns groupings of restaurants, clothing stores and fitness clinics into must-visit destinations? And can the formula be replicated elsewhere?

“At these places, it’s not like you pop into Old Navy and then leave,” said Gabriella Santaniello, an LA area-based retail consultant. “If you go, you make a whole day out of it. We park, we shop, we hang out.”

Old Mall, New Mall

Located at the foot of Malibu’s rolling hills and just across the highway from the beach, Malibu Country Mart (unaffiliated with the one in Brentwood) is one of LA’s pioneer retail operations that exemplify the growing divide between large ageing indoor malls built in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, and the newer, typically outdoor shopping destinations, mostly built after 2000, that offer a distinctive blend of food, fashion and wellness stores and entertainment options.

Andie, a New York-based online swimwear brand, recently opened its first store in Malibu Country Mart after months of waiting for a spot to open and then competing with other aspiring tenants for the lease. The six-year-old company had been approached by more traditional malls, such as the nearby Glendale Galleria in LA and Fashion Island in Newport Beach, but always passed on the opportunity, according to founder and CEO Melanie Travis.

“We just don’t want to get lost in a mega mall,” Travis said. “Shopping centres like Malibu Country Mart, they don’t drag you down like going to an [old-fashioned] mall with fluorescent lighting.”

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Unlike the suburban malls bookended by some combination of Macy’s, JCPenney and, until a few years ago, Sears, the newest outdoor malls don’t have department stores at all. The Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge, a 95,000-square-foot shopping plaza developed by real estate firm Midwood and opened in 2021, counts an Equinox gym and Erewhon grocery store as its largest tenants.

Inside the Shops at Sportsmen's Lodge, an outdoor shopping centre in Culver City.
The Shops at Sportsmen's Lodge counts an Equinox gym and Erewhon grocery store as its largest tenants (Midwood)

The idea is that shoppers in the area can go to the Equinox in the morning, pick up one of Erewon’s famous $20 smoothies after their workout, and casually browse the mall’s slim but inviting roster of stores, including Reformation, Vuori, a small format Fred Segal, and wellness studio Next Health. Maybe afterward, shoppers would be compelled to stay for lunch at Roberta’s — one of the Bushwick pizza restaurant’s four locations outside of New York — or Kismet, a local favourite.

“Coming out of Covid, we were all locked up in our houses for two years, and there’s a residual effect of people wanting to have social experiences,” said Ron Bondy, Midwood’s EVP of retail leasing. “And when we go to a certain place, not only does it feed your needs, but it also says something about who you are.”

For Travis, it was the Whole Foods down the road that sealed the deal at Malibu Country Mart.

“The mom who shops at Whole Foods is the mom who buys Andie,” she said. “It couldn’t be a more perfect destination.”

Platform doesn’t have anchors at all. Most of its stores are about 800-square-foot, and its first tenants were Aesop and Blue Bottle Coffee, two brands more likely to resonate with wealthy millennials than a department store.

“People used to go to Sears because Sears had a large selection of stuff,” said Joey Miller, who founded Runyon Group, the real estate firm behind Platform, with business partner David Fishbein. “When they come out to shop today, it’s for curation. For perspective and entertainment … we conceded a long time ago that assortment belongs online.”

Food Before Fashion

Bondy began his search for tenants at Sportsmen’s Lodge with food and beverages rather than retail. After all, young consumers are spending more on experiences, including dining out. A recent Morning Consult survey found that Gen Z respondents spend 40 percent of their total monthly spending on food — more than apparel and entertainment. For many in that generation, restaurants, more so than clothing brands, signal personal taste and style.

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“Food used to follow fashion and now fashion follows food,” Bondy said. “We were very careful to curate our food mix because we didn’t want to be obvious. We wanted to be cool, and very LA.”

Midwood made leasing concessions to restaurants like Sugarfish and LA-based HiHo Cheeseburger, Bondy added.

“The path to success is bumpy and expensive,” he said. “We really felt that if we made the right decision up front, it would connect with the local customer and the rewards would come to us further down the road.”

Visitors to the Sycamore District like to highlight its French dining options: bakery Tartine, bistro-style restaurant Gigi’s, and Mr. T, a French eatery inspired by street foods.

“Specialty restaurants and gourmet grocery are key,” said Santaniello. “That’s what makes a break from the everyday mall. It’s not normal shopping.”

Specialty Tenants

Developers are applying the same idiosyncratic approach to their apparel tenants.

“The way we approach leasing is very much by being curious, by constantly reading interesting travel magazines and fashion magazines and blogs,” said Runyon Group’s Fishbein. “We look for things that don’t exist on a brick-and-mortar capacity in LA yet.”

Fishbein and Miller run their own upscale clothing boutiques in Platform called Teller and The Optimist, a decision they made in order to avoid the trappings of the traditional department store but still offer shoppers the experience of discovery. Platform also houses Monocle Magazine’s only brick-and-mortar outpost in the US, as well as independent womenswear store Wyeth.

Teller, Runyon Group's boutique at Platform.
Teller, Runyon Group's own boutique at Platform. (Runyon Group)

Platform reserves a space for seasonal pop-ups; its current resident is Plant Daddies, a local indoor plant design service that sells exotic plants potted in large, statement vessels.

“I saw some of my followers on Instagram going to their showroom, and they’re these two up-and-coming young guys changing the indoor plant game in LA,” Fishbein said. So he cold emailed them, and within days, the Plant Daddies were at Platform, checking out the space.

Community Programming

Good restaurants and interesting retail aren’t enough to consistently draw shoppers; there needs to be a robust roster of activities too, from live entertainment to children’s programming.

Platform employs a community manager and puts on about 200 events every year, shopping parties to collaborations with car fairs. The Grove has an ongoing collaboration with Apple TV+ in which every Thursday morning in May, the streaming network puts on a two-hour session for kids, including puppet shows and storytelling. Caruso’s other property, Americana at Brand, hosts weekly workout classes for moms and their babies in strollers.

“Good shopping centres create a community,” said Santaniello, of the Caruso properties and others. “It’s building the retail, the restaurants, the music. They run events, they have common areas that are inviting, and there are pop-ups. They always keep it interesting, and that’s what I like too.”

Further Reading
About the author
Cathaleen Chen
Cathaleen Chen

Cathaleen Chen is Retail Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and drives BoF’s coverage of the retail and direct-to-consumer sectors.

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