South Coast Plaza is showing few signs of a slowdown as it enters its 55th year of business.
With annual sales topping $2 billion for the first time in 2021, the Costa Mesa center has cemented its place as the top luxury shopping destination in the western U.S., if not the entire U.S. Its sales are estimated to be roughly double those seen at Beverly Hills’ collection of luxe retailers along the 2-mile-long Rodeo Drive, and the OC center brings in over 20 million visitors a year, which is nearly three times the traffic seen at the LA retail hub, according to industry figures.
SCP, with about 2.8 million square feet of retail and dining space, first surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2002 and now counts 287 tenants.
Orange County’s top shopping center is privately owned by various members of the Segerstrom family and opened in 1967.
The Business Journal recently connected with SCP executive director of marketing, Debra Gunn Downing, to get an update on the shopping center and recent changes to its tenant roster, including new additions.
The following Q&A is edited for clarity.
Business Journal: When it comes to incoming tenants at SCP, there seems to be a focus on restaurants, cars and watches. Is this part of a larger plan for the center?
Downing: South Coast Plaza has a reputation for “best of the best” which brings so many shoppers here. Fine timepieces attract major collectors, and the market has never been stronger.
Interest in dining experiences and chef-driven restaurants is also in demand. We’ve recently added Tableau, Populaire and Petrossian at Tiffany’s [& Co.]. Mian Sichuan Gourmet Noodles is opening next month and Caló Kitchen + Tequila this winter, with a couple more lined up for 2023.
Business Journal: What is SCP’s strategy for competing against other top luxe retail destinations, like Rodeo Drive?
Downing: Part of South Coast Plaza’s allure and an advantage is the number of luxury flagships all under one roof, making shopping easy and enjoyable. It contributed to our 2021 record annual sales that exceeded $2 billion.
Business Journal: What makes Costa Mesa and Orange County such a hot spot for luxury spaces?
Downing: Orange County is an affluent market with a coveted lifestyle, great weather—and as evidenced by the high-end real estate market, a region where people are eager to relocate or have a second home. Our unique collection of luxury retailers, wonderful and diverse restaurants, and superb performing arts, enhanced by easy access, makes SCP a top destination for visitors and shoppers.
Business Journal: Exclusivity and exhibitions, such as the June collaboration between adidas and Gucci, a pop-up in Jewel Court, are a huge part of business for SCP. Is the center actively searching for these opportunities?
Downing: We are fortunate that we can pick and choose from prospective tenants. Many brands seek a presence at South Coast Plaza.
The pop-ups give us a chance to work with unique and cutting-edge retailers on a shorter-term basis. They add an energy to the center. Our exhibits are varied and enhance the experience of South Coast Plaza—there is always something new and creative to see. We are booked out through the year.
Business Journal: Many brands within the center are on the move within the plaza, whether it’s expansion or moving locations. Are bigger spaces becoming a priority for SCP right now?
Downing: Because of the outstanding sales performance of our retailers, there is a trend for luxury brands to build flagships here or invest in extensive remodels. The request for more space is based on consumer demand.
Business Journal: Has the center noticed any changes in the demographics over the past few years? How is international traffic faring?
Downing: Middle Eastern guests are back, many here for the summer. Also, more high-end shoppers from Mexico City. We draw regional shoppers from a radius of 100 miles-plus—San Diego, the desert communities, the South Bay, Los Angeles, Malibu and Santa Barbara.
Business Journal: Any news on the plans for the former Sears site?
Downing: There is no news to announce at this time.
On the Clock
According to South Coast Plaza, there are now 35 different luxury jewelry and timepiece boutiques under its roof as of this year—the largest collection of such stores in the country, with more slated to open in the near future.
New arrivals to the center this year will be Tudor, Breitling, Hublot, and Roger Dubuis with Audemars Piguet and Tag Heuer having just opened last month.
After 42 years, South Coast’s previous General Manager David Grant retired last December. Thirty-year retail executive Molly Unger has taken over. She’s the first woman to manage the property.
“Molly brings a high level of operational expertise to South Coast Plaza which is enhancing the day-to-day operations of the center,” Debra Gunn Downing said.