Just a few years ago it was said that Pacific Palisades’ tiny commercial center had the beaten-down aura of a Midwestern Main Street where the mom-and-pop shops have been driven out by Walmart — only there was no Walmart.
“It was a little village with one or two streets of stores and restaurants,” said actor Billy Crystal, who moved there with his family in 1979. “Over the years it sort of faded and faded.”
The impression that the Palisades had been somehow left behind was always misleading, because it is home to some of the highest-priced residences in Southern California. Now, the tony Westside community is getting not only a new town center from shopping center mogul Rick Caruso — but also online retailer Amazon’s second Los Angeles bricks-and-mortar bookstore.
Caruso envisions the $200-million redevelopment known as Palisades Village as more of a walkable Main Street than a ritzy shopping center like his Grove or Americana at Brand developments. The 125,000-square-foot complex on Swarthmore Avenue bordering Sunset Boulevard will include a movie theater, community space, grocer and retail shops. There will also be eight apartment units.
It’s a rare case of a developer remaking a hamlet’s main drag after it fell on hard times, which is a little hard to fathom given how seaside Pacific Palisades is one the most prosperous neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with a healthy dose of celebrities and a median income over $150,000.
Among the casualties over the years was Village Books, which the community fought in vain to save. Resident Tom Hanks was among the fundraisers, autographing books and CDs in the rain for three hours in December 2013.
“The Village bookstore was so loved by the community,” said Crystal, who acts as honorary mayor along with his wife, Janice. “You could bring your child or go in for reading by authors who came by. They just couldn’t compete anymore.”
Of course, one of the big reasons small bookstores have struggled for survival is because it’s hard to compete with Amazon, but the Seattle giant stands to open shop in the Palisades as a welcomed neighbor.
The only other Amazon Books in Los Angeles is in the Westfield Century City shopping center.
Amazon bookstores are typically far smaller than those of big chains such as Barnes & Noble, but offer selections based on perceived tastes in the area, customer ratings and popularity. Books are placed face-out on the shelves “so each can communicate its own essence,” according to an Amazon statement.
A representative of Amazon Books, which is set to open with the rest of Palisades Village on Sept. 22, said the store would fit into the neighborhood.
“We created Amazon Books to be a place where customers discover books and devices they’ll love,” said Cameron Janes, vice president of Amazon Books, who noted company data shows that Pacific Palisades is “in an area that we know is full of readers.”
Crystal said he hopes Amazon will interact with the community and schools. “I want to see more kids read instead of text and Instagram,” he said.
Rick Caruso, founder and chief executive of the company called Caruso, purchased the property in 2014, and received approval for the project two years later.
With the addition of Amazon, Palisades Village is 80% leased, the developer said. The store is to open on Swarthmore Avenue.
Another long-gone community landmark, the Bay Theater, will be resurrected as an outpost of Cenepolis Luxury Cinemas, which operates upscale theaters in which viewers sit in reclining leather chairs and can have food and cocktails delivered by waiters during the show.
There will be seven restaurants with bars in the Village, including in the theater, a noteworthy increase in potential libation from the old days when Pacific Palisades had only one place to get a drink.
The developer said his goal is to create a range of options for people to dine at different price points and hang out in a quaint commercial district with the flavor of an old resort town.
He started choosing tenants after holding public meetings to see what the neighbors wanted. “Localism is a huge trend in retail right now,” he said. “People want something close to home that serves them.”
Along with a bookstore and theater, locals unsurprisingly wanted ice cream, coffee, a bakery, beauty shop and groceries, all of which are coming.
The Village will be far smaller than Rick Caruso’s major shopping centers including the Grove in Los Angeles and Americana at Brand in Glendale, but it will have about the same number of stores at 40 to 50.
“The difference is the scale is much, much smaller,” he said. The Grove is about 18 acres and Palisades is about 3 acres.
Like Caruso’s other retail centers, Palisades Village will have parking (in this case underground) and outdoor spaces for leisure.
The comeback of the commercial heart would elevate the Palisades, said resident Drew Planting, a real estate developer who is not involved in Caruso’s project.
“If you look around Los Angeles, the successful neighborhoods and communities are the ones with a town center,” he said, such as Larchmont Village, Old Pasadena and Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
“As the city gets more difficult to navigate from a traffic perspective, those neighborhoods get ever more valuable,” said Planting, co-founder of GPI Cos. “You’re not going to drive from Pasadena to Venice to eat dinner.”
The risk for Rick Caruso and his tenants is that they will be heavily dependent on locals because Pacific Palisades is comparatively remote and previous businesses failed in part because they didn’t have enough customers, Planting said.
“The challenge is that the Palisades is not the most densely populated spot in Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s going to be incumbent on the community to support the center. You’ve got to use it.”
By Roger Vincent