CONSIDER the Grove -- L.A.'s love-it or hate-it open-air mall that's more insular universe than shopping center. Now think of the Grove on steroids. The fountains are jazzier, the shops swankier, the rolling green lawn super-sized. And you can actually live there -- have breakfast at Tiffany every day.
Daydream or nightmare, it's reality at the Americana at Brand, the new shopping center and residential development in Glendale from Grove developer Rick Caruso. The project, which cost $400 million and was under construction for two years, opens Friday.
The sheer scale of the Americana -- 15.5 acres rambling over four city blocks -- would be significant for any metropolis but is especially major for Glendale, which boasts a sturdy mid-tier mall, Glendale Galleria, but not much else in terms of notable retail.
The Americana tenants include Barneys New York Co-Op, Kate Spade and Tiffany & Co. Not every store is in the Rodeo Drive club, but Caruso's proved that high-end retail flourishes at his centers. Barneys' store at the Grove is one of the top-selling Co-Op boutiques, said Michael Celestino, executive vice president of stores for Barneys New York. "The great success of the lifestyle center of the Grove encouraged us to do another Co-Op store in this format with Caruso," he said.
The developer has turned areas around before. When the Grove was built in 2002, the neighborhood was more a throughway than a place to stop and shop. "People said we were nuts to open the Grove in an old Hasidic Jewish neighborhood," said Caruso, while strolling through the Americana (still under construction just three weeks before opening, with 3,000 workers on site). "The Farmers Market looked like a stage set for 'Cocoon.' If you were under 80, you were there to do karaoke night."
Glendale, he added, is ripe for posh retailers. "The truth of the area is that there's lots of disposable income here and nowhere to shop."
But the center is making its debut at a dicey time for retail, with an economic recession in motion that's cinching wallets and purses. Dana Telsey, retail analyst and chief research officer of the Telsey Group, said high-end and luxury retail has been affected by the downward market conditions but added that malls "are built not for today or tomorrow, but for years from now. Environments and climates change. It will take a little time, but they will turn around."
Caruso, who spent millions fighting Glendale Galleria owner General Growth Properties while planning the project, has built an empire by creating stylized retail centers that encourage shoppers to kick back and hang out. You either love the idea of shopping in a fantasy land -- where shiny trolleys cruise mini-streets and uniformed elevator men ask "Which floor? "-- or you cringe over its Disney-esque surrealness.
But only the terminally cynical will be blind to the Americana's charms. Yes, architectural purists will bemoan the hodgepodge of design styles -- Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Mediterranean, Classical and many more. But walking down the paved pathways, you almost feel as if you're strolling Boston's Newbury Street or Georgetown in Washington D.C. Or the main drag in Vegas. A 2-acre grassy knoll features an 80-foot "dancing" fountain, the centerpiece of the project, with stores and a playground curving around all sides.
Unlike at the Grove, there are no department store anchors, only a multilevel Barnes & Noble and an 18-screen Pacific movie theater. And though the outdoor space is triple what it is at the Grove, there's actually less retail.
But the lineup is aimed straight at younger shoppers: Calvin Klein, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Lacoste, Martin + Osa, Free People, H&M;, Juicy Couture, Custo Barcelona and XXI from Forever 21.
Abercrombie & Fitch will open its first store in California for its Australia-based line Gilly Hicks, which features hip lingerie and lounge wear for twentysomethings. Paperchase, a British stationery store, will debut its first West Coast shop.
Tiffany & Co. will launch its lower-priced "concept store," geared toward the trendy jewelry shopper. The boutique, which is still called Tiffany & Co., corrals its more accessibly priced baubles -- including sterling silver staples and diamond, gold and platinum -- inside a smaller storefront. Kiehl's, Bare Escentuals, an Aveda Lifestyle salon, Art of Shaving and the L.A. flagship for Calidora Skin Clinic are the center's beauty tenants.
And you won't go hungry -- though you might leave with a touch of indigestion. Restaurants and eateries include Beard Papa (cream puffs), Caffe Primo (salads and paninis), Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, CrepeMaker (handmade crepes), Jamba Juice and Richie's Neighborhood Pizzeria. On the higher end, there's Katsuya, the Japanese restaurant from sushi chef Kaysuya Uechi and designer Phillippe Starck.
The Americana takes its customer service seriously. The concierge desk offers -- for fees -- valet service, on-site oil changes, rental car and taxi reservation assistance, wardrobe consultation and styling, dry cleaning, tailoring, a notary public and even a yoga instructor. That's just for shoppers.
There are even more perks for those planning to move into Caruso's Neverland. Stacked above the center's shops and restaurants are 100 condos and 238 apartments, with condos ranging from the low $700,000s to $2 million and rents from $2,000 to $5,500 a month. The list of services for residents reads like Mariah Carey's backstage rider: piano tuning, baby-sitting (kids, pets and plants), movie tickets, personal shopping, art appraisal and food delivery.
Day shoppers who won't be rolling out of bed and into Urban Outfitters -- and don't want to valet -- will be subjected to a fascimile of the Grove's creeping, merry-go-round of a parking garage. But then passage to strange lands has always been tricky.