PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Located a short drive north from Palm Beach, this less-well-known city of millionaires has caught the attention of the luxury market.
Chanel, Gucci and Ralph Lauren have arrived at Gardens Mall, upscale New York eateries Rosa Mexicano and Strip House have opened outposts, and jet-set residents such as Venus and Serena Williams are filling mansions in gated communities.
“The typical scenario here is a wife living in a $2 million house with the kids while her husband works in New York during the week,” said Casey Steinbacher, president and chief executive officer of the North Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce. “There’s a younger feel here than in Palm Beach. Even our snowbirds still work.”
Science and golf are the economic pillars of the city, which has a population of 49,000. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America relocated here in the early Sixties, giving the place 160 golf courses and the title Golf Capital of the World.
The Scripps Research Institute is the latest newcomer to a roster of engineering, medical and aeronautics firms. Yale Medical Center is said to be scouting for a research facility here.
“This end of Palm Beach County is a magnet for those needing grant money because it’s so philanthropic,” Steinbacher said.
Nathan Forbes, managing partner of The Forbes Co., a developer and manager of shopping centers based in Southfield, Mich., which owns Gardens Mall, said designer brands were immediately accepted here. “And it was the obvious progression for these retailers that are doing well in Florida, in Boca Raton and Bal Harbour,” he added.
Though the mall’s square footage has remained at 1.4 million since the mall opened in 1988, the tenant directory and consumers have evolved considerably. Forbes said the market took a while to mature, even after Saks Fifth Avenue, one of five anchors, opened in 1990. He attributed the increased luxury demand to more year-round, high-income families seeking what he defined as “best-of-class” lifestyle brands from Apple to Tommy Bahama, and the influx of daytime employees who followed corporate relocations. His data indicated that 75 percent of visitors were full-time residents and sales per square foot totaled $650 in 2006.
The mall established a luxury wing fanning out around Saks’ second-floor entrance, where Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Tiffany pioneered in 2004 and 2005.
“We chose the second floor over the traditional first floor because it’s where department stores keep their better designers,” he said, estimating only 10 percent of space is dedicated to luxury stores. “But we plan to expand the luxury component as leases come up.”
In November, Chanel opened a 2,500-square-foot boutique, its fourth Florida location. Barbara Cirkva, division president of fashion, watches and fine jewelry for Chanel Inc., said Palm Beach County had always been important to the company. Worth Avenue in Palm Beach was Chanel’s second U.S. store, and distribution at Saks and Neiman Marcus in the region is strong.
“South Florida in general is important because of its leisure and tourist components,” she said.
Chanel was on board when Forbes unveiled his luxury vision. Cirkva said the store’s small size in comparison with other locations doesn’t reflect its potential. The decision was based on the venue, where Cirkva said customers tend to make impulse purchases such as accessories and shoes. In contrast, Worth Avenue is a destination store offering the complete ready-to-wear collection. She said Palm Beach Gardens would carry 20 percent to 70 percent of the rtw beginning with cruise 2006-07, though she would have a better idea of the merchandise after six months of operation.
“In our first six weeks of business, we knew the store was a hit, though,” she said, adding a hot seller was the Coco’s Cabas handbag in black vinyl with chain detail retailing for $995 and $1,225. It sold out 45 minutes after the shop opened.
The company introduced tiered display cubes in matte black or lit in white to the store’s signature decor of tweed upholstery, carbon fiber shelving and sliding wall panels.
“[The cubes are] very dynamic and can be used for sweaters, mannequins or handbags,” Cirkva said.
Gucci and Ralph Lauren opened 4,800-square-foot and 4,500-square-foot stores, respectively, in December. Design elements at Gucci’s seventh Florida unit, such as polished stainless steel, hematite and beige lacquered panels, link the house’s history and new creative area, a company spokesman said. This location has 125 linear square feet of storefront and separate handbag and jewelry rooms for an intimate shopping experience, in addition to an extensive selection of men’s and women’s rtw and shoes.
Ralph Lauren’s natural decor combines cast coral stone, reclaimed wood floors, raffia walls and painted cases for a casual, resort feel. Columns are reminiscent of those at a pool or garden pavilion, and the store’s L-shape layout creates two entrances, for children’s wear and for the men’s and women’s departments. Women’s merchandise features the exclusive Black Label.
Gucci and Ralph Lauren also have stores on Worth Avenue. Forbes reported proximity wasn’t an issue.
“Palm Beach shoppers don’t leave the island and vice versa,” Cirkva said. “Even if luxury retailers knew it would cannibalize business, it’s worth it in the long run if you consider Florida’s population growth estimates.”