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THE CAMP: CAPITALIZING ON ACTION

Byline: Kristin Young

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Among the boulders, the pine trees around the redwood lodge, the bike paths and scuba pool, there stands an oasis for the mall-weary in this unlikeliest of areas.
The Camp is the newest in the region’s line of groundbreaking retailtainment complexes, and an extreme opposite in terms of atmosphere and mission to that Valhalla of shopping centers just a half mile north, South Coast Plaza.
With about 60 percent of its spaces filled, the $13 million active-oriented retail complex sprawled across four acres is also distinguishing itself from its landmark cousin across the street, The Lab, the celebrated youth-oriented “anti-mall” that opened in 1993 and continues to rack up between $450 and $600 a square foot each year. Both complexes were opened by Shaheen Sadeghi.
While The Lab houses Urban Outfitters and a hippie-like coffeehouse called the Gypsy Den, The Camp, situated at 2937 Bristol Street here, zeroes in on activewear and action sports customers — be they tweens or baby boomers. In fact, while the “mall rat” culture of suburban Orange County prevails, just as dominant is the board culture of surfing and skateboarding that defines much of the surrounding population and the apparel industry here.
Billabong recently opened its first flagship in The Camp, as have Cyclewerks and Adventure-16 — which also counts a 2,000-square-foot in-store Patagonia boutique.
The high-concept, 50,000-square-foot multilevel complex features buildings topped with airplane hangar-like ceilings and aluminum siding. There’s even a canvas-topped Mongolian yurt that will soon become Guru’s, a health food restaurant.
Three years in the making, Sadeghi said he observed a niche in the activewear market, noticing that consumers were moving away from team sports toward “human-powered” sports like skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding (widely dubbed the action sports), as well as fly fishing, mountain biking and a type of rock-climbing called bouldering.
“There was good product, but not a lot of sophistication in the way it was presented,” said the 47-year-old shopping center developer, who set out to meld aesthetics with an interactive environment.
Sadeghi projects sales at The Camp will run between $600 and $1,000 a square foot in its first year, generating revenue of at least $30 million, and he expects the interactive nature of the project will help get him there.
An 11-foot-deep pool at dive shop Liburdis, for example, can be used for scuba certification, product testing and underwater photography. Liburdis is slated to open next week.
Paths lined with indigenous vegetation such as wild grass and flower root are piped with recorded sounds of birds and waves, intended to give shoppers a feeling of peace. It manages without smacking of a canned Disneyland vibe.
Retailers had to fulfill three requirements: They had to have authenticity, a solid heritage and be considered core brands to athletic consumers.
Billabong’s 5,600-square-foot store (its third after smaller locations in Laguna Beach and the Universal City Walk in Burbank, Calif.) boasts a free-to-the-public 4-by-32-foot skate ramp, a small wading pool to test surfboards and a cyber cafe. At press time, displays promoted women’s denim shorts priced at $48; board shorts, $52, and corduroys in lavender, baby blue and green at $50.
Outdoor and travel outfitter Adventure-16 opened a two-level, 12,000-square-foot space on Jan. 22. Shoppers can sit on wooden rocking chairs and read travel books, get consultations on climbing trips and buy printouts of customized National Geographic maps. “They’ll send you from Everest [in Nepal] to El Capitan [in California],” said Sadeghi.
The Patagonia in-store shop features women’s and men’s sportswear, alpinewear and endurancewear. Bestsellers include a women’s cotton touring shirt retailing for $54; hemp pants at $80, and brushed polyester mini-skirts for $54.
Outside, there’s a fire pit where visitors can gather to hear live music, watch product demos and hear lectures on sports medicine. They can also check out the $6,000 mountain bikes mounted on wood panels in a gallery-like setting at the nearby 2,800-square-foot Cyclewerks.
Bikram’s College of Yoga, a yogi famous in Southern California for practicing poses in 90-degree heat, will open in May. Three restaurants, including the health food cafe, are slated to open in June.
“The idea was to strengthen the body, soul and mind,” said Sadeghi.
Analysts seem to think the complex has potential.
“I think [the project is] hitting at the right time,” said Tony Cherbak, a partner in the consumer business group of Deloitte & Touche in Costa Mesa, Calif. “These activities have always been popular, but they’ve received a renewed focus since Sept. 11. Outdoor and sporting good retailers in Orange County have had a better performance than I have seen in general retail.”
The developer has purchased 10 acres surrounding The Camp with plans to build artists’ lofts and a boutique hotel in the next five years. He’s dubbed the area “SoBECA,” because it is located south on Bristol and incorporates entertainment, culture and arts. The Camp’s grand opening party is scheduled for May 31.

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