I have a friend who's pretty much your typical male. He enjoys an occasional cigar. He fights his weight (and mostly loses). He detests most shopping centers.
However, he loves the Grove. Loves it.
I consider myself fairly typical, and I feel the same, although not as strongly. Since we named Rick Caruso as the Business Journal's Business Person of the Year in this issue, I got curious about why typical males like my friend and me actually like the Grove. It is, after all, just a shopping center and we should detest it. So I called my friend and asked: What is it about Caruso's developments you like? Can you put your finger on it?
He surprised me. It was clear immediately that he had studied this, and he started rattling off several things.
Just consider the building materials, he said. You see solid components like stone, brick and iron. You don't see cheap aluminum or stucco. That creates a timeless, classic, permanent feel.
"And every sight line is planned. They're perfect," he said. For example, each tenant is visible without being too conspicuous. Even tenants down the alleys don't seem lost.
What's more, there are good details. Lots of good details. "I appreciate the fact they went through the extra effort to put in a computerized parking lot," he said, to help you find a space.
And his centers are not fake. In fact, one reason guys like us don't like many shopping centers, he pointed out, is that so many of them try to replicate some look or be something they're not, like a Parisian street scene even though the shopping center may be in the desert. Caruso's developments are comfortable being what they are: They are early 21st century shopping centers. They don't pretend to be something else.
OK, I said. But what about the criticism that Caruso's developments are antiseptic?
"Antiseptic?" he almost yelled. "Antiseptic? They're the opposite of antiseptic."
He explained: Most shopping centers subtly order you around. Walk here. Enter store there. Buy lunch at the food court and sit at the nearby tables. Take a moment to admire the fake Parisian street scene.
That's antiseptic, he said. That's sterile.
Caruso's centers open up to you, he said. You feel at home. You want to linger and stroll. You can sit here. Heck, maybe there. Stop and watch the fountain go through its performance.
Do you notice when you're at the Grove that kids play, he asked? That lovers sit and coo?
Maybe Caruso's places are antiseptic in that they are clean and tidy, perhaps too much so. But they are not antiseptic as in sterile or fake.
I must admit I do enjoy strolling about when I'm at one of Caruso's developments (although some are definitely better than others). Alas, I still hate to step into any of the shops, but Caruso's done his part by getting me to their doorsteps.
It's pretty remarkable, really, that he's managed to get a fairly typical shopping-averse guy like me to go to a shopping center and not hold my breath waiting to escape. And he's gotten a cigar-chomping typical male like my friend to study and admire such aspects as building materials, sight lines and shopping center dynamics.
In fact, this may be one of Caruso's most unheralded accomplishments. He's broken through the gender barrier and made shopping an experience that typical males don't detest.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at
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