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An Expert Take on Santa Monica Place  

By Ed Moosbrugger

September 2, 2010 -- Perhaps the first thing you notice about the remodeled Santa Monica Place is how open and welcoming it is compared with the original 30-year-old complex. The change is most evident as you enter from Broadway across from the south end of the Third Street Promenade.

There you are greeted with an open pedestrian walkway featuring jacaranda trees, which also line the Promenade. Although the walkway is not as wide as the Promenade, it still draws you in because you can see all the way to center court.

Gone are the doors of the old center that acted as a bit of a barrier and masked what was inside. With the entrance doors and roof removed, Santa Monica Place feels more like a continuation of Downtown rather than a separate entity.

Clearly, Santa Monica Place's owners have kept their promise to connect much better with the surrounding area.

Even though the parking structures continue to limit the ground level appeal, Santa Monica Place has now become more pedestrian friendly from the street. For example, the department stores have made themselves more attractive, with much more window space.

The openness extends to the top level, which features a food court with views towards the ocean that will be enjoyed by many more visitors than before.

That's because when the California Coastal Commission approved construction of Santa Monica Place in the 1970s it required a viewing deck on the west end of the shopping center. To get to it from inside the mall, however, you had to go through doors, limiting the number of visitors.

The remodeled Santa Monica Place features a more upscale list of stores, including Bloomingdale's (in place of Macy's) and Nordstrom, that will broaden the retail mix Downtown.

Still there will be gaps. Santa Monica is likely to continue to lose some shoppers to competitors such as Westfield Culver City (formerly Fox Hills Mall) that offer a more affordable mix of stores.

Although most of the tenants at Santa Monica Place are new, some who were in the center before it closed for remodeling have returned. They include Kenneth Cole, Hot Topic, Gallini, Kensington Luggage, GNC and Charles David.

Several retailers now have stores in both Santa Monica Place and elsewhere Downtown, and some may keep both locations.

Others may wait to see how the stores perform or if there is interest in subleasing their space outside Santa Monica Place, said Robert O. York, a retail consultant for the Bayside District Corp.

Sketchers USA, L'Occitane, Stefano's Pizzeria and Wetzel's Pretzels now have stores both on the Promenade and in the mall.

“We plan to keep both open,” said Vincent Montanelli, senior vice president of operations for Wetzel's. “We will absolutely stay on the Promenade. We're very excited about it.”

L'Occitane will keep both stores open for now and will see in the future whether it will continue with both, a spokesperson said.

While Skechers USA will offer different products at its two outlets -- its new store in Santa Monica Place will be a Shape-ups store (the second in the United States), selling Shape-ups and Tone-ups styles exclusively, while the Skechers store on the Promenade will continue selling all the Skechers lines.

Bertini of Santa Monica also will have different merchandise mixes at its store on Broadway and Second Street and at a Bertini boutique across the street in Santa Monica Place.

Other stores will no longer have outlets outside the mall. Sea of Silver is moving from the Promenade to Santa Monica Place, while Fatburger closed its Promenade location and will be in the mall.

Meanwhile, Disney's new store in Santa Monica Place marks its return Downtown. It operated a store on the Promenade for a few years, closing in the early 2000s. Bernini, another former Promenade clothing retailer, will also be in Santa Monica Place.

As for new stores, the shopping center's owner Macerich signed up some big names, such as Barneys, Ben Bridge, Burberry, CB2, Coach, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Nike and Tiffany, as well as some independent retailers.

Now Macerich can hope for good weather for its open-air mall and hope that the economy strengthens.

 


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