10 things we like about the new Spectrum
By Irvine City News staff
Shopping centers and malls across the country are being impacted economically by stores closing, especially the big box retailers and department stores that have served as anchors of the centers.
Irvine and Orange County are not immune to the impact of Amazon’s success and the move to online purchasing. Sales tax revenue is declining in the city, and the recent or upcoming shuttering of stores such as Toys R Us, Babies R Us, and Orchard Supply Hardware will impact shoppers, employees and landlords too.
But the challenges faced by legacy brand retailers can also offer opportunity to savvy landlords. The 2016 closing of the Macy’s at Irvine Spectrum Center is a prime example. Rather than try to lease the 140,000-square -foot space to another large retailer, the Irvine Company tore it down and built four smaller buildings with outdoor spaces in its place as part of a $200 million expansion and upgrade of the shopping center. The area will include 30 tenants. Many are new to the Spectrum center, while other existing tenants like Apple and H&M relocated into new, supersized stores.
The new section of the Spectrum debuted on August 18, with many of the new tenants in place and several to open over coming months. Here are a few thoughts and recommendations, based on early visits, to experience what’s new at the Spectrum.
Room to wander
The new areas at the Spectrum have wider, less crowded promenades, ample seating, and nicely designed areas to relax, chat, text and people watch. Part of the reason the Spectrum has flourished during the retail downturn is that it’s evolved into an entertainment, dining and meeting place, rather than just a center for just shopping. The newest post-Macy’s area, as well as the upgraded and improved original sections of the center, advances that evolution.
Breakfast at BLKdot Coffee
Long a hidden gem near the Google building on Jamboree, the new BLKdot Coffee in the Spectrum is a cool and contemporary space that’s much more accessible than the original location. Many will visit the cool and contemporary space for the VTM Coffee, a strong and sweet Vietnamese craft coffee. But we are most tempted by the toasts: avocado, egg salad, sausage and egg, and the Farmer’s toast, which includes scrambled eggs, kale, mushrooms and cheese on a thick slice of country bread. The a.m. offerings at BLKdot are delicious, reasonably priced (toasts and breakfast sandwiches from $6.75-$8.95), and available at 7 a.m. on weekdays. There is also a selection of sandwiches, pastries and other treats all day.
As we wandered around the entirety of the Spectrum, we noticed nice new landscaping, upgraded and additional seating and just a general sense of… space. We couldn’t put our finger on it at first, and then it hit us: all the annoying kiosks selling odd, who-would-ever-buy-these items, are gone, as are the often hard-selling folks who worked at them. While many shoppers may not notice their absence, it makes for a serious upgrade to the ambience of the center.
Reflecting pool and fountains
In front of the new Apple store is a long, flat, rectangular pool of water with areas to sit along its low walls. Periodically, squared off areas rise up out of the water, and coordinated fountains start a low-key light and water show. It’s subtle and offers a lovely detail to the Spectrum experience.
Apple’s glass box
New Apple stores around the world have featured glass walls all around for a few years. The sleek and minimalist design is a nice fit for the brand, and it’s nice to see it in Irvine. The stand-alone store glows at night, willing us to walk in and upgrade our tech, no matter the cost.
For the first time the Spectrum has a family lounge, offering a welcome respite for parents and their progeny. The nicely designed indoor area offers changing tables, private nursing rooms, rest rooms with both adult and kid-sized sinks and toilets, and a colorful little play area for tots and toddlers.
The argument over whether an outdoor or indoor (and air conditioned) shopping center is the best design for Orange County has raged since 1967, when both South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island opened. With hot summers now the norm, we vote for less sun. Which is what the new design at Spectrum includes. The grass-like play area near the Big Wheel now has well-shaded new seating, as does much of recently opened new areas. Even the existing promenades seem to have more sun screening stretching above, between buildings.
Modern monkey bars
A centerpiece of the new area near Target is a large climbing and play structure. It’s near the splash pad, and relocated carousel that are already family favorites. Designed by Spencer Luckey, the structure dubbed the Luckey Climber is part maze, part jungle gym. Kids climb over 75 colorful plastic platforms as they take several ways into, up, and out of the sculpture. Though it’s 18-feet-high, the entire thing is encased in a sort of elastic netting, so it appears impossible for a kid to fall off of our otherwise get out except at designated areas. We’d gently suggest not letting toddler-age kids on the structure. If they get stuck inside, or otherwise need mom and dad’s help, there’s no easy way for parents to get to them.
There are plenty of opportunities for a sugar rush at the upgraded center, including a new location of the super popular 85°C Bakery Café (it’s open limited hours as this is written, so don’t line up at 8 a.m. yet) and the contemporary design and minimal menu at Afters Ice Cream. The Hello Kitty Café had not opened by press time, but no doubt it will be a sweet spot as well.
Though it doesn’t quite have the heightened sense of design of some of the other new dining options, we’ve enjoyed falafels and kabobs at Falasophy, a fast casual spot to try Lebanese street food, with a SoCal fusion flair. Try the spicy Banh Mi chicken shawarma sandwich, with a chicken kabob on the side.
We’ve yet to enter the new H&M or Apple store, and there are several spots remaining to debut in the new areas of the Spectrum, including the full-service Japanese restaurant Robata Wasa (the design and the menu look promising), Ra Yoga, and Sephora.