There's no mistaking that Costa Mesa's SOCO and the OC Mix are on people's radars.
The 300,000-square-foot shopping center, which sits on 20 acres, entices shoppers with its "Zen" gardens, modern retail spaces (that seamlessly blend indoor and outdoor elements), one-of-a-kind eclectic shops and even a Saturday farmers' market.
New retailers constantly open. Upscale furniture designer Brown Jordan is set to open a 14,000-square-foot showroom and shop next month at SOCO. Chef and owner Jonathan Rollo will debut his Greenleaf Gourmet ChopShop at the center in June. Even the OC Mix — a hub for food and fashion (there's even a nail salon, Lollipop Nail Studio) — will see fresh faces when Cloth & Metal, a men's clothing, accessories and audio electronics retailer, opens up later this month and beloved gourmet food truck Taco Maria opens up in the summer.
First things first: The center wasn't always this popular. After some rocky years, Burnham USA bought the distressed property in January 2009, says Chief Executive Scott Burnham.
South Coast Collection — or SOCO, as it is known — had been on his and his colleagues' radar for quite some time. After nabbing the site, they evaluated what they wanted to do with it, he says.
Inspiration came from venues they visited, Burnham says, such as the Grove,
"We said, 'Hey, look, there's an opportunity to reinvent this place, but in order to do so, we're going to have to start from scratch,'" Burnham says.
The result is a fresh and innovative mix of retailers, a reflection of the center, says Bryon Ward, president of Burnham Ward Properties, an affiliate of Burnham USA.
That mix has drawn every kind of shopper from families and professionals to interior designers, foodies and stylish hipsters.
Burnham and Ward work like curators, seeking out possible retailers, courting them and adding them to their vision of what they want for SOCO and the OC Mix.
Case in point is Greenleaf, whom they heavily courted. They also sought out Rolling Greens and Surfas.
Peinture owner Deborah Cooper expanded her shop's business to be open seven days a week and offer classes on the weekends. Her shop features Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, a special type of paint originally from Europe that gives old furniture new life. Its characteristics are a bit country-French chic, and it's easy to apply and is durable.
"Every month that I'm here, I double the previous month's sales, and that's all new customers," says Cooper, whose shop opened earlier this year. "It's people who are walking by."
Her shop boasts a wall of chairs that feature each color of the paint and other pieces that have been redone in it.
Cooper even has a customer drive in once a week from Venice, she says. The paint has changed her life, she told Cooper.
"I have a lot of frequent fliers," she adds.
Commandments anchor her workshop area. No. 1 reads "Thou shalt leave thy self-doubt at the door." It's part of encouraging people to be comfortable with the paint, which she also offers introductory classes for.
Saturday at 3 p.m., she's hosting the woman behind the paint, Annie Sloan, for a signing of her book "Color Recipes for Painted Furniture and More." Seventh Tea Bar (inside the OC Mix) will offer tea and light fare during the event.
Inside the OC Mix, reminiscent of San Francisco's Ferry Building with its exposed ceiling and airy space, is vinyl record shop Analog, which has been there for about a year and sits next to Portola Coffee.
Owner Alex Forsythe, a musician, grew up listening to records.
"It's a cool vibe in here. I love the environment," he says. "I had no plans of opening up my own store until I walked in here."
"It's our answer to the Ferry Building with a little Fred Segal added into it," Burnham says about the OC Mix.
Just around the corner is Birdie Bowl and Juicery, whose owner, Jee Shin, had her first success with Milk + Honey at the Camp (she sold it). Her newest concept offers fresh juices and acai and pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls.
"Location is very important to what kind of business I'm doing, where I'm creating an experience versus just the product that you can find online or buy at the super market," she says about the OC Mix. "It's just really different from what's out there right now."
The goal was to bring an alternative retail experience to Orange County, Burnham says.
"We were inspired with the European way of shopping and retailing," he says.
There's even the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, an event center that also hosts art classes, which features pictures from the famed illustrator known for his "Looney Tunes" and "Tom & Jerry" cartoons.
"Every owner of these venues share one thing in common: They're all passionate about what they do," Ward says.
SOCO and the OC Mix are at 3303-3323 Hyland Ave. For a complete list of shops, visit southcoastcollection.com.