Orange County’s downtown Santa Ana has gained underground cred as an emerging hipster haven.

This story first appeared in the December 8, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A new crop of eateries and streetwear brands now call downtown home alongside quinceañera shops and streetcarts selling fried pork rinds.

It’s an area in transition.

At the heart of the change is the East End — 140,000 square feet of retail and office space — that had previously been called Fiesta Marketplace and was aimed at a first-generation Hispanic shopper.

“That customer is now going to Wal-Mart, Target, MainPlace. They are looking for the best options, whereas 20 years ago, they didn’t have those options. I’m now targeting their kid,” said Ryan Chase, who, along with his father, owns and manages the East End along with about another 100,000 square feet in downtown.

Several million dollars went into façade and common-area improvements for the East End re-branding that began in 2010. 

About 1,600 square feet is currently vacant, according to Chase.

It’s difficult to compare current occupancy levels with what they were before the re-branding, Chase said, because rent reductions were offered to stave off vacancies. Concessions have since slowed.

Rents are around $2 a square foot triple net, with some of the newer properties commanding more. Space went for as high as $3 a square foot triple net in the Nineties.

Chase and his father have been selective about new tenants.

“Once you have what everyone else has, you’re nobody,” Chase said.

A couple dozen tenants have come to the area since the re-brand, including Safehouse by Crooks and Castles, Blends and Native Son Alehouse. 

In January, the 4th Street Market, a concept similar to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, is expected to open. It will house 15 food concepts and 10 rental kitchens. 

“Food is obviously driving everything right now,” Chase said. “In today’s world, it’s more about entertainment and food and then retail follows that…We see [4th Street Market] as a community center and communal hub for downtown.”

Chase got big buy-in from Jason Quinn, owner and head chef of the popular Playground restaurant.

Quinn is set to open five concepts at 4th Street Market: three food stands called Lunchbox, the Recess bar and a high-end market named Honor Roll.

That follows the Playground 2.0 restaurant expansion and bakery Dough Exchange, which opened in November. 

“We walked the whole area with Ryan Chase and drank the Kool-Aid and fell in love,” Quinn said of his decision to open Playground in Santa Ana in 2011.

The area’s vibe and curated tenant selection is what attracted Brandon Williams, one of three owners of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based custom hat company Bespoke Cut & Sew, to open its flagship there in 2013.

The area is still a work in progress, but the changes are “like night and day” since Bespoke opened. And Williams, along with many others, continue to bank on the area’s ongoing evolution.

“We built [our store] there for the future, when Santa Ana becomes a really popping downtown,” Williams said.

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