From Lima Beans to Billions: How South Coast Plaza Is Turning 50 in Better Shape Than Ever

south coast plaza, 50th anniversary
Archival photo of South Coast Plaza, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Courtesy of South Coast Plaza

Fifty years ago, South Coast Plaza was just a field of lima beans.

Today, the center — nearly 45 miles south of Los Angeles in Orange County — features 2.8 million square feet of retail and dining space in Costa Mesa, Calif. (The Segerstrom family, which still owns the property, opened the retail space in 1967.)

south coast plaza, 50th anniversary South Coast Plaza, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Courtesy of South Coast Plaza

As it marks half a century in business, South Coast Plaza has been upping its footwear presence with a number of big names. This year, Aquazzura and Gianvito Rossi opened their first West Coast boutiques there, while Vans also debuted a location, and the Walking Company and Adidas Originals redesigned their units.

“South Coast Plaza has a unique presence of international luxury brands, and being there is a great advantage for our clients in the area,” Rossi told Footwear News.

Roger Vivier, Berluti, Charlotte Olympia, Jimmy Choo, Balenciaga, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Ugg and Christian Louboutin are among the other 250 retailers that have a presence in the space, which racks up $2 billion in sales annually, according to South Coast Plaza’s data.

For the milestone anniversary, brand partners have created limited-edition items sold exclusively at the boutiques. Some of the products include Tod’s Gommini loafer in ocean-inspired blue and green, and Roger Vivier’s pale-rose Sneaky Viv slip-on leather sneaker with a crystal-embellished Strass buckle.

Stocking exclusives is one way the center has stood out in challenging times.

“We and our boutiques are paying attention to what can be offered in person that can’t be replicated online,” said Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing at South Coast Plaza. “That’s where the experiential ideas and exclusives come into play, whether it’s an artisan customizing a shoe or a limited-edition style being made available at one or a handful of locations.”

gianvito rossi, south coast plaza Gianvito Rossi at South Coast Plaza. Courtesy of Gianvito Rossi

Last year when the Webster opened its first West Coast store with a fashion show attended by VIP shoppers and special guests, it turned South Coast Plaza’s courtyard into a catwalk for a special presentation.

Working with retailers big and small is “one of the important keys to South Coast Plaza’s success,” said Downing, who added that building strong relationships is essential.

“We’ve connected Ferragamo with philanthropic organizations that have held shopping-related events with the boutique over the years,” said Downing. “At the same time, South Coast Plaza is one of the boutiques that Ferragamo has selected for some of its special collections.”

To tap into new customers, South Coast Plaza has placed emphasis on digital outreach — and its retailers play into the strategy, too.

“We’re devoting more resources to content for our social media platforms, including our international social media, because that’s where a growing number of shoppers are engaging,” Downing said. “We view the digital universe as another place to reach our customers and help our retailers — so much so that almost all of our conversations with our retailers about initiatives have a digital component.”