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Retail Boom: LA's shopping scene is picking up again

Bricks-and-mortar boutiques are coming back in a big way – and just in time.

November 25, 2012|By Adam Tschorn | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • A Christmas tree at DL & Co. in Beverly Hills.
A Christmas tree at DL & Co. in Beverly Hills. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

As the postprandial fatigue of the Thanksgiving meal gives way to the adrenaline rush of the holiday shopping season, those hitting the streets are likely to notice a whole new crop of bricks-and-mortar stores that weren't there during the last candy-cane-colored, ornament-festooned romp through retail's winter wonderland.

The bumper crop of boutiques opening in time for holiday shopping or just after the New Year includes newcomers ranging from British brand Joseph opening its first West Coast store (on Robertson Boulevard), to French label Isabel Marant coming to Melrose Place, to Will Leather Goods' store full of strappy satchels on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. There are locally owned places too, including LaMerch, a gift shop next to the popular LaMill coffee shop in Silver Lake.

Also in the mix are retailers that opted to expand an existing Southland presence, such as J. Crew, which opened a stand-alone men's store at the Grove the day before Thanksgiving, and those that are opening shiny new renovated retail palaces just in time for the holidays, such as Dior and Van Cleef & Arpels, both on Rodeo Drive.

Dembo Realty's Chuck Dembo, who specializes in luxury retail property leases, confirms that brands have been increasingly bullish on bricks-and-mortar.

"The big picture is that there's been a steady climb since the beginning of the year," says Dembo. "Things are coming back strong and vacancies are declining."

As evidence, Dembo points to retail rows such as Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, where Intermix, which already has a handful of SoCal stores (including one not even two miles away on South Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles), has a new boutique. "Beverly Drive was maybe half-vacant for years, and now it's getting leased up. It's never going to be 100%, but it's right up there close to the top."

Dembo thinks there are two things stoking the SoCal storefront resurgence: lease rates that have been starting to rebound after bottoming out at about half their high-water mark (during what he calls the "pre-pre-recession") and a market — Los Angeles — with global cachet.

Jan Rosen, owner of the 9-year-old artisanal candle brand D.L. & Co., considered the same factors before deciding to open his first bricks-and-mortar boutique on Beverly Drive in October.

"No. 1, real estate was a little more advantageous, price-wise.... Right now [retail lease] rates in Beverly Hills are what they were in 2005 and 2006, and that's amazing."

But, Rosen says, locking in a good lease was only part of the equation. For luxury products like his, a stand-alone boutique, especially one with a Beverly Hills address, is an essential part of brand extension.

"There are two ways to do that," Rosen says. "I can take on another PR firm for $10,000 to $15,000 a month, or I can open my own store. I like the store concept."

Similar considerations — branding and cost — convinced jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald, who launched her line in 2008, to open her first store in Sunset Plaza last week, even though she hadn't planned to make the move into bricks-and-mortar until sometime next year.

"I always wanted to do my own store because it's the best way for a designer to show their whole aesthetic," said McDonald, "but I saw the [for rent] sign go up and it didn't make any sense to wait and hope that another similarly priced and sized place would open up."

For McDonald, who describes herself as a "huge, huge fan of retail" to begin with, there's also an intangible reason to open a store — one that can't simply be explained by rental rates and brand extensions.

"For me, bricks-and-mortar retail is also a part of our society. It's social; it's fun. You do it with friends or after a breakup to feel better or for special occasions."

Which, by McDonald's metrics, means this holiday shopping season is going to be a whole lot of fun.

Something that's worth remembering as you hunt for a parking spot.

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