The great palazzos in Europe inspired The Grove developer Rick Caruso PHOTO BY STEWART AND CONNIE PHOTOGRAPHY
In 2002, Rick Caruso reinvented the mall concept with his innovative shopping, dining and entertainment complex The Grove (thegrovela.com). Two decades later, the famed developer—and mayoral candidate—discusses the L.A. institution’s greatest moments and 20th anniversary plans.
“The idea behind The Grove was always to build one of the greatest streets in the world,” says Rick Caruso, founder and CEO of real estate company Caruso—also behind California properties such as Rosewood Mirimar Beach, Palisades Village and The Americana at Brand. “I wanted to create a Main Street for a city that doesn’t have one, and transport people to a better place and time.”
Caruso did lots of research into how to transform the Fairfax District orchard and nursery—previously a dairy farm owned by A. F. Gilmore, bordering the historic Original Farmers Market—into a lively outdoor retail and entertainment center, where people would convene for a coffee or cocktail and “just enjoy life.” He studied King Street in Charleston, Michigan Avenue in Chicago and Savannah’s street system. “We spent a lot of time looking at the details that make up a real pedestrian environment,” says Caruso, who examined curbs, gutters, streetlights and storefronts. “There’s a big part of The Grove that was inspired by the art of filmmaking—in fact, we consulted with set designers early in the design process to help us reimagine a whole new shopping experience.”
Coach carries accessories and ready-to-wear items PHOTO BY STEWART AND CONNIE PHOTOGRAPHY
Caruso didn’t set out to create a shopping mall. “We were creating a beloved town center for our neighbors to enjoy,” says Caruso, who drew inspiration from the great palazzos of Europe, where shops and restaurants centered around a dramatic fountain. “I had this vision of an old downtown that has come back to life. The Grove was designed to evoke a small-town past; it feels nostalgic.” He envisioned guests slowing down and taking life in by riding on a double-decker trolley, watching the fountain show or enjoying live musical entertainment. “I think there’s a real sense of beauty, a sense of humanity, that appeals to everyone,” he notes. “Every element that I was told was over the top or unnecessary when we were planning the property—things like our trolley, the Dancing Fountain, our expansive park—have all become emblematic of The Grove experience.”
Parisian brand Sandro features refined men’s and women’s collections PHOTO BY STEWART AND CONNIE PHOTOGRAPHY
Founded in 2002, the 600,000-square-foot complex houses a Nordstrom, American Girl Place and Barnes & Noble—plus a new AMC Theatres originally Pacific Theaters) and dining concepts from edo bites to Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill. “When we opened The Grove, we introduced a number of ‘only in L.A.’ retailers,” says Caruso—who’s supported brands looking for their first brick-and-mortar presence alongside bigger names. Newest additions include a Coach, Apple, Diptyque and Maje, with rotating pop-up stores from brands like Canada Goose, Gucci Beauty and Rag & Bone; Fisker, La La Land Kind Café and Todd Snyder are coming soon. “Over the years, we’ve welcomed everything from SKIMS’ first-ever pop-up to APL’s first permanent store, and this year we’ll debut Alma, an incredible Mexican restaurant from Grupo Hunan, a well-respected Mexico City-based hospitality group.”
Grasse-born Le Labo sells luxury perfumes and beauty products. PHOTO BY STEWART AND CONNIE PHOTOGRAPHY
The last 20 years have been filled with memorable moments, from unforgettable musical performances to Christmas tree lightings. “To see how quickly The Grove became synonymous with the holidays was really special for me,” says Caruso. Hearing Stevie Wonder sing “I Just Called to Say I Love You” 10 years ago was another highlight for him—as was the opening of The Grove’s Main Street to cars during the height of the pandemic. “We brought our Miramar To Go food truck down from our resort and allowed guests to drive through our property for a once-in-a-lifetime experience benefiting a nonprofit that means a great deal to me, Para Los Niños. … It’s moments like this that I feel define who we are as a company and what we stand for.” During the pandemic, The Grove also launched Store-to-Door delivery service and allowed restaurants’ outdoor dining to spill out into the street. “It was the best decision we ever made,” Caruso says. “It brought so much life and energy to the property.”
Caruso still can’t believe The Grove is celebrating 20 years. “The Grove was not my first project but was certainly one of my biggest,” he says. To commemorate the occasion, The Grove will stay true to its DNA and celebrate with programming guests have loved over the years. “It’s a great opportunity for us to throw back to some favorites from 2002 but also celebrate new, up-and-coming talent, and acknowledge the future. We’ll work with local, homegrown talent as well as individuals that may have moved here and now call L.A. home.” Through the end of the year, guests will receive gold coins at participating restaurants and brands, which they can redeem at Caruso Concierge for limited-edition commemorative items and one-of-a-kind collectibles that will drop monthly. Anniversary fashion, film, music and art events will be updated online (thegrovela.com/grove20).
Twenty years later, Caruso still loves walking the property just as he did right after it opened. “There’s no greater joy than watching people enjoy what we built,” he says. “We’re in the business of enriching lives, and The Grove reminds us of that every day.”