palm desert shopping

Sign of the Times

Good weather and a growing workforce movement willing to relocate is a good sign for the retail and restaurant sectors in the desert.

JIM POWERS Current Digital, Restaurants, Shopping

palm desert shopping
Business has been strong for luxury retail brands during the pandemic.

With the weather on its side and a growing workforce movement to relocate to destination locations, the appeal of the Coachella Valley’s nine cities offers a promising future for the restaurant and retail sectors, says Michael Braun, president of Grit Development.

“We have 275 days a year of pleasant sunshine,” Braun explains, “and that’s what people are raving for right now. And I believe the flights fleeing the urban settings, meaning LA, New York, San Francisco, Portland, et cetera, or Seattle, and come to destinations like Palm Springs, it’s a long lasting trend that we believe we’ll experience for the next three to five years. In other words, I think Palm Spring is the new Fifth Avenue for retailers and restaurants, so any operator who wants to connect with their wealthy client base needs to have a presence going forward in Palm Springs.”

Braun was recently among a trio of experts in the retail and restaurant sectors to speak during Webisode 6 of The Economic Future of the Coachella Valley Webinar Series. He was joined by Patrick Klein, general manager of The Gardens on El Paseo in Palm Desert, and Tara Lazar, founder of f10 creative, which owns five Palm Springs restaurants, f10 catering business, and Alcazar hotel.

The nine-part webinar series is a Palm Springs Life event in partnership with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and SBEMP Attorneys, and sponsored by Timo’s Air Conditioning and Heating.

• REGISTER: Webisode 7 and future discussions in the series, visit palmspringslife.com/our-events. You can also view each webisode on the Palm Springs Life YouTube page.

Braun added the walkability of downtown Palm Springs and some of the other desert cities makes it possible to park and patronize shops and restaurants easily. The desert climate compared to other parts of the country allow for outdoor dining and shopping in the winter months while the coronavirus pandemic plays out.

While retailers have had to cope with shoppers moving to online, there have been encouraging signs that brick and mortar stores will continue to be a draw. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be the elimination of a need for brick and mortar,” says Klein. “You have to have showrooms and physical spaces available for these customers to interact with the products that they’re looking to buy. And whether they’re buying them at that moment that they do interact with them in stores or going back to their homes and then ordering them online, or they decide to make that purchase at a later date, there’s still that need for that physical space.”

In fact, Klein says the luxury brands on El Paseo have performed well during the pandemic. “And a lot of that business is from our drive market — LA, San Diego, Orange County, Arizona. They are really driving in from all over to come check out our Valley.”

Restaurants have had to adjust both to a new audience and new eating habits that may not disappear during the pandemic. “So one of the biggest noticeable differences for us is a later diner,” says Lazar. “We’ve had to really accommodate to keep our restaurants open past 9:30 p.m., especially on the weekends. Something that we never anticipated. And then on the earlier side, it’s a faster turnaround. People are eating quicker and they’re getting out faster. And truthfully on the finance and the economics of it, it’s a big boom for us.”

Klein says strong restaurant sales on El Paseo during the summer months reinforced the importance of outdoor dining during the pandemic and beyond.

“If you were to visit our shopping center over the course of the summer, where normally you wouldn’t see a soul sitting out on the patio dining in 120 degree temps, we had some of our restaurants that were almost at normal sales volumes, and this was all being done through patio dining,” Klein says. “It’s very clear and evident that what we as people need to be out in open spaces and interacting with other people. I think as we slowly get back to normal, the fears and concerns from the general public will lessen and lessen.”

• VIDEO: View Webisode 6 on Retail and Restaurants.