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  Issue Date: 1 / 2018  

Street of Expensive Dreams

Norman Sklarewitz

Image Credit: Ron Mesaros Click image to enlarge.

       In most of the world’s major cities there’s usually one street that’s the center for exclusive shopping. In Tokyo it’s the Ginza; in New York City it’s Fifth Avenue; in London it’s Bond Street, in Berlin it’s Kurfurstendamm; and in Paris it’s Montaigne. Each of those cities is, however, a major metropolis where visitors would expect great shopping opportunities.
        But then there’s a little community in southern California with a population of just 34,000 that can, and does, compete with any high-end shopping center anywhere. This is the city of Beverly Hills and its Rodeo Drive is world-famous for its exclusivity. Quips Adam Sydenham, Regional General Manager, Luxe Hotels that includes the Luxe Rodeo Drive, “Rodeo Drive is the most glamorous street on the planet.”
        While it’s hardly three blocks long, this particular stretch of Rodeo Drive is home to more than 100 high-profile stores, galleries, boutiques, restaurants and salons plus one 84-room hotel. Retailer names here are literally a who’s who of international exclusivity: Hugo Boss, Cartier, Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Harry Winston, Van Clef & Arpels, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Ermengarde Zegna, Prada, Gucci, De Beers and, just recently opened, Maison Goyard. There a tote can cost $2,320 and a clutch $3,025. Things get so exclusive that one place, Bijan, opens its door to a customer only by appointment. One reason: his custom-designed suits can cost some $25,000. Even one of his neck ties goes for $1,200.

Image Credit: Ron Mesaros Click image to enlarge.

       Each store on Rodeo Drive tries to be distinctive – often striking – in design while remaining within strict architectural guidelines set by the city. “We want to avoid being bureaucratic, but we want to ensure that a village-like feel is preserved,” says one official. As a result, no structure can be higher than three stories and structural density on any one lot is strictly controlled. Signage is limited to three colors, although on application and review by an architectural commission, an exception may be granted. Flashy electric or neon signs are allowed only with a “sign accommodation” discretionary process. Fast food restaurants aren’t permitted even if they could afford the steep rent. There can be no street access to ATM machines without a “Development Plan Review” discretionary process and there are none inside stores, either. (However, a few banks have them indoors). It you’ve maxed out your credit cards, it’s best to bring cash.
        The city does everything it can think of to make shopping on Rodeo Drive a pleasant experience and, more importantly, to keep visitors in a mood to buy. Street musicians and others soliciting money from passersby are barred. Tour buses may drive along the street but not stop for fear of blocking traffic. Those stores that retain security guards usually dress them discreetly in black, though some prefer no-nonsense uniformed armed guards. In addition, the Beverly Hills Police Department has uniformed officers on bicycles as well as others in civilian dress keeping an eye open for trouble.
        In addition to the rows of smart shops that line both sides of the street between Wilshire Boulevard on the south to Santa Monica Boulevard on the north, there’s a shopping center within the shopping center. It’s called Two Rodeo Drive and is located at the south end of Rodeo Drive.
        Designed to look something like a small European shopping area right down to imported Italian cobblestones, its limestone steps leading to Wilshire Boulevard recall the Spanish steps in Rome. Two Rodeo Drive consists of 26 upscale retailers and two restaurants all on a 1.25-acre site. Originally built in 1989, with 130,024 of rentable square feet, it’s the largest development ever built on Rodeo Drive.
       Visitors from all over the world come to Rodeo Drive to shop, window shop or take selfies of themselves in front of one of the big-name stores or perhaps stand by some super expensive sports car parked at the curb. For those serious about buying, store owners do everything they can to accommodate. Most stores are open seven days a week. And to make things easy for international visitors, it’s figured that sales personnel speak some 38 languages.
        Celebrity shoppers contribute in no small way to the excitement and glamorous atmosphere that Rodeo Drive exudes. Some, however, prefer not to risk being photographed by lurking paparazzi or bothered for autographs by tourists. They are well accommodated by shop managers. For one thing, not even well-known to locals, is the existence of neatly maintained alleys that run behind Rodeo Drive stores. Shoppers seeking to avoid the public or the press merely have their drivers drop them off at private rear entrances to the desired store where, often as not, the manager eagerly waits to personally welcome them in.
        VIP shoppers may be further pampered in private showrooms up on second or third floors, away from the normal main floor traffic. When advised in advance, merchants will have selected merchandise pulled from stock and brought to a private showroom. The owner of one jewelry shop has a very efficient way of insuring the complete privacy of customers coming to buy expensive gems, timepieces or silverware. Store personnel politely clear the premises, draw drapes over the front windows and simply close the shop to the public. Since it’s not uncommon for a special customer to make purchases totaling $100,000 or more, such attention is considered quite worthwhile. Just the way things are on Rodeo Drive.

Norman Sklarewitz brings to his travel articles for The World & I a long and solid background in hard-news reporting. This includes being Far East Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal based in Tokyo and L.A. Bureau Chief with U.S. News & World Report. He's reported on major international events, including the Vietnam War, and during World War II, he was a military correspondent. As a freelancer, he has traveled extensively and has published thousands of articles on a wide range of topics for a variety of publications.
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