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Grove Owner Rick Caruso Builds Malls Like He's Making Movies

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Developer Rick Caruso gets a lot of flack for his fakey-old-town shopping centers (The Grove and the Americana at Brand), which replicate a place that never really existed. But if you consider these malls as a kind of set for a movie we're all background players in, there's something to be said for the film-director-level of control and calculation going on at The Grove and other Caruso properties. A recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter reveals that Caruso approaches his shopping plazas a lot like a movie: starting with a story, trying to create something that people can connect with, and of course devoting himself to good lighting.

— Like a good movie, a good mall should make you feel something. Caruso looks at his "lifestyle centers" as places that should connect with people on an emotional level and make them want to stick around to take pictures (and shop). "Market share is interesting and important," says Caruso. "But what's more important is 'heart share,' the emotional connection."

— The reason people take so many pictures at The Grove is because they look better there than they do in so many other places in LA. "We learned a lot from studio lighting," says Caruso. "We're probably the largest buyer of pink lights in the world. People look better, and it provides a warm glow."

— Caruso realizes that the movie business has what he needs to build the kind of world-within-a-world that he wants. During the 1990s, he hired a longtime production designer, Richard Sawyer (The Three Amigos), to help him create the right environment in his projects. "He is probably the closest developer that might equate to a director-producer," Sawyer says.

— Every good story needs a solid setting, which is partly why Caruso was so interested in redeveloping quaint downtown Pacific Palisades. "They have their own flag! An honorary mayor! Their own Fourth of July parade! It's just so beautiful, so basic, so steeped in family values. It's a big slice of American pie." That perfect setting is also why he's on the lookout for property in Downtown LA's Arts District: 'You can't invent that — those old warehouses, that backlot.'"

— Caruso "micromanages" every property in his empire, visiting at least twice a month for a thorough inspection, to make sure that "the upkeep of sensory details, whether it's the body language of valet staff or a bit of gum on the sidewalk" fits into the narrative of the space.

— Like most blockbusters, The Grove attracts a ton of people because it offers people a way to escape from their everyday lives, Caruso says. "A lot of the experts criticize The Grove, that it was manufactured. Well, somehow 20 million people a year seem to feel it's real and it's right. We transport them to a better place."

— Caruso argues that The Grove and all his shopping centers aren't part of the "shopping business," but part of the "content and experience business," which requires that his shopping centers "construct narratives, scenes, feelings and moods," telling a story that shoppers want to listen to.
· L.A.'s Walt Disney of Shopping: Rick Caruso on Expansion Plans, Whose Advice He Seeks in Hollywood [THR]
· 10 Quotes About the Grove From Its Birth in the Early Aughts [Curbed LA]
· Here's the Jaw-Dropping Plan to Grove-ify Downtown Pac Pal [Curbed LA]

The Grove

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The Americana at Brand

889 Americana Way., Glendale, CA 91210