Biltmore Fashion Park used to be so full of itself. Once, about 10 years ago, I went there to buy a wedding band, and no one would wait on me. I visited each of the mall's jewelry shops, as well as the jewelry counters in two department stores, and none of the clerks would do more than glance up at me. I was wearing rather expensive deck shoes and had a crease in my khakis, but the help treated me like I'd just come in from a barn, smelling rank and chewing on hay.

Another time, I went with my friend Mike to buy a dress shirt at Macy's. I wasn't shopping, but I spotted a suit marked down so low that I couldn't not buy it. The clerk who rang me up said something like, "Oh, great, another Blue Light Special." (I don't recall, but according to Mike, I replied with, "You're a clerk, not a clothing designer. Just give me my change and shut the fuck up.")

I used to hate the stuck-up attitude at Biltmore Fashion Park, which occupies the northeast corner of 24th Street and Camelback Road. Granted, it never kept me from shopping there; it's the only decent mall that's reasonably close to where I live in downtown Phoenix. But it bothered me that people who sold shoes for a living were serving so much shade.

Biltmore (or less): Bits of this much-loved mall remain after the initial stages of its ongoing face lift. Clockwise from left: Westcor's logo on the streetfront sign; a pair of rehabbed walkways; the largely unchanged center garden in front of Saks.
Biltmore (or less): Bits of this much-loved mall remain after the initial stages of its ongoing face lift. Clockwise from left: Westcor's logo on the streetfront sign; a pair of rehabbed walkways; the largely unchanged center garden in front of Saks.

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Biltmore Fashion Park

24th St. & Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016

Category: Retail

Region: East Phoenix

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Then they opened a Cheesecake Factory. Right out in front. And overnight, it seemed, Biltmore Fashion Park was on its way to becoming just another prole mall. Oh, sure. This Cheesecake Factory offers valet parking. But it's no Oscar Taylor's, the linen-and-serviettes restaurant that used to be next door to Border's Books. (Today there's a chain bakery where Oscar Taylor's used to be.) What's next? Spencer Gifts? Orange Julius?

Suddenly, I missed all those snotty clerks. I wanted back the one thing that made the Biltmore different: It was the only mall in town I felt compelled to dress for.

When Biltmore opened in 1963, it was Phoenix's only upscale shopping center, a classy outdoor mall (considered innovative at the time, when the trend in mall design was for enclosed, air-conditioned spaces) anchored with chic department stores and boutiques. But what's old is apparently new again; malls built here in recent years — Kierland Commons and Desert Ridge in Phoenix; Tempe Marketplace; Gilbert's SanTan Village — are replicating Biltmore's outdoor, open-air concept, although on a grander scale and without the stylish garden design.

Which is what has me worried. As I watch Westcor (the 38-year-old, Phoenix-based commercial properties conglomerate that bought the mall in 2004) moving through its three-phase redevelopment of this tasteful old landmark, I worry that it's going to come out on the other end looking like its younger sisters, Westcor's "urban villages." That's what they call the mega-malls they've designed and built and at which I'm unable to shop, because they make me feel like I'm being eaten alive by a three-dimensional commentary on America's passion for buying stuff.

The company's proposal for residential condominiums at the east end of Biltmore Fashion Park (back where all the cool restaurants used to be) has been delayed because of "water pressure challenges" in the Camelback Corridor and city planners' opposition to the proposed building height. But I see the charm-leaching changes Westcor has accomplished at the mall in the meantime, and I wonder: Will I pull into the recently redesigned parking lot one day and see a "Coming Soon!" sign announcing a new Circuit City? How long before Saks is replaced by SuperTarget?

They stopped doing the weekly farmers market here shortly after Westcor bought Fashion Park, and most of my favorite Biltmore shops and restaurants are gone. Ayako Sushi is no more, soon to be replaced by Stingray Sushi, a chain eatery. Restoration Hardware and Coffee Plantation are history, two of many stores that fled during what Westcor is calling its "de-leasing" of Biltmore Fashion Park, and what some disgruntled shoppers are calling "being chased away by newly astronomical rents" on the mall's blog.

I called Devon Hoffman, the senior marketing manager for Biltmore Fashion Park, to ask what was going on. "These changes are all about remaining competitive," she assured me. "We're striving for that same balance of high-end shops and smaller stores, and national and local places that the Biltmore has always had. But we want to keep it fresh and exciting."

When I was there last week, the mall looked less fresh than under construction. I walked around a decidedly uncrowded BFP, looking at all the boarded-up storefronts behind which will shortly emerge a Coach store; a "tea emporium" called Teavana; and a restaurant known as True Food. (Who comes up with these names?) I was looking for signs of the old Biltmore, and I found them by looking up. Way up. Those nice, sandstone-esque friezes remain at the tops of several sections of the mall. Also, the center garden is still there — the one where they build the giant Christmas tree of poinsettia plants each December — now book-ended by the schizophrenia of an Apple Store and Saks. Unfortunately, Westcor's improvements didn't include adding any shady trees or awnings to that garden, which seems like a no-brainer for an outdoor mall in the desert.

I do like the new tunnel that Westcor built beneath Camelback Road, primarily to lure office workers from the Esplanade directly across the street for lunchtime shopping and dining. There's a pretty terrazzo mosaic down there, and I admit it does feel sort of "big city" to go briefly underground, only to emerge at a shopping mall. When I passed through the tunnel the other night on my way to the Biltmore side, there was a youngish guy named Jeff who'd set up an electric piano down there. He was playing his own compositions, for tips. "Usually I sing, too," he confided. "But I'm having dentures put in, and right now my mouth is kind of messed up."

Once safely across the street, I went into Banana Republic, where a tall, impeccably dressed youth approached me. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"Yes," I told him. "Just for old time's sake, say something rude to me."

His response gave me hope. He arched an eyebrow, looked me up and down, and walked away. Maybe there's some snootiness left at the Biltmore after all.

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4 comments
Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Mr. Pela's account of his declasse shopping experiences did tug at my heartstrings. Not, it must be admitted, to any great degree -- but after all, the degree of pathos which one can extract from the subject of haberdashery is limited.

I decided, therefore, to satisfy his longing for supercilious affront by writing a scenario, which I hope meets with his approval.

* * *

(Pela enters upscale men's clothier.)

Young Clerk (spotting Pela): The service entrance is at the rear of the building.

Pela: I'm not a tradesman. I'm here to buy clothes.

Young Clerk (giving Pela the once-over with a practiced eye): No soliciting.

Pela: You ARE an insolent monkey, aren't you? I demand to see the manager. At once.

Young Clerk (barely stifling laughter): The manager? I'm afraid he's busy at the moment.

Pela: Doing what?

Young Clerk: Managing.

Pela (reddening): I'm quite serious. Get the manager out here -- now.

Young Clerk: I might be able to get you the senior sales person. Just a moment. (Disappears behind a curtain.)

(A distinguished, elderly man in a three-piece suit, with a measuring tape draped round his neck, emerges from behind the curtain after an interval.)

Senior Salesperson (speaking through a frozen grin of the sort worn by someone who has sat in a spot of wet paint, and is mortified lest it become known and he is made the butt of public jest): May I help you, sir?

Pela: Is this a haberdashers or the monkey park at the zoo?

Senior Salesperson (smile freezing by 20 degrees): The last time I checked, sir, it was the former.

Pela: Very well, then. Your clerk seemed unsure. I'm looking for a pair of slacks.

Senior Salesperson (full of false obsequiousness): I'm afraid there has been a misunderstanding, sir.

Pela: Oh?

Senior Salesperson (almost apologetically): You see, we're actually a bespoke tailor, catering to gentlemen of means. We don't do off-the-rack. (Gives Pela's khakis another look while superciliously raising one eyebrow a sixteenth of an inch.) And we don't sell safari-wear. You might try Banana Republic across the way. (Gives a smirk which says: "I am given to undertand that THEY sell to anyone.")

Pela: Do you mean to tell me that I don't meet your standards?

(At this point, the Young Clerk reappears from behind the curtain and mercifully intervenes.) Young Clerk (regarding Pela like someone caught pocketing the silverware at a dinner party): Can I help?

Senior Salesperson: Perhaps you can supply this gentleman with the name of that new downtown shop, which caters to persons of his...taste. I can't for the life of me seem to recall it. You know...the one named by that blasted Wolfgang Puck.

Young Clerk (thinking furiously for several moments): Oh! You must mean SYKH. (Young Clerk pronounces this as "chic".)

Pela: SYKH?

Young Clerk: It's an acronym. You know, a word that...oh, never mind. It stands for "Snarky Young Khaki-wearing Homosexual".

Pela: You interest me strangely. Give me the address.

(Thirty minutes later, Pela walks into the SYKH Boutique. Steely Dan's "Gaucho" is playing over the sound-system.)

Thin Young Man: Look what the cat dragged in!

Pela: Can it be that you are addressing me, callow youth?

Thin Young Man (looking at Pela's salmon colored polo-shirt and no longer immaculately creased khakis): We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Can I interest you in something with Mechlin Lace at the collar and cuffs?

The End

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Mr. Pela's account of his declasse shopping experiences did so tug at my heartstrings. Not, it must be admitted, quite so much as The Bridges of Madison County -- but one can only extract so much pathos from haberdashery.

I decided, therefore, to satisfy his longing for supercilious affront by writing a scenario, which I hope meets with his approval.

* * *

(Pela enters upscale men's clothier.)

Young Clerk (spotting Pela): The service entrance is at the rear of the building.

Pela: I'm not a tradesman. I'm here to buy clothes.

Young Clerk (giving Pela the once-over with a practiced eye): No soliciting.

Pela: You ARE an insolent monkey, aren't you? I demand to see the manager. At once.

Young Clerk (barely stifling laughter): The manager? I'm afraid he's busy at the moment.

Pela: Doing what?

Young Clerk: Managing.

Pela (reddening): I'm quite serious. Get the manager out here -- now.

Young Clerk: I might be able to get you the senior sales person. Just a moment. (Disappears behind a curtain.)

(A distinguished, elderly man in a three-piece suit, with a measuring tape draped round his neck, emerges from behind the curtain after an interval.)

Senior Salesperson (speaking through a frozen grin of the sort worn by someone who has sat in a spot of wet paint, and is mortified lest it become known and he is made the butt of public jest): May I help you, sir?

Pela: Is this a haberdashers or the monkey park at the zoo?

Senior Salesperson (smile freezing by 20 degrees): The last time I checked, sir, it was the former.

Pela: Very well, then. Your clerk seemed unsure. I'm looking for a pair of slacks.

Senior Salesperson (full of false obsequiousness): I'm afraid there has been a misunderstanding, sir.

Pela: Oh?

Senior Salesperson (almost apologetically): You see, we're actually a bespoke tailor, catering to gentlemen of means. We don't do off-the-rack. (Gives Pela's khakis another look while superciliously raising one eyebrow a sixteenth of an inch.) And we don't sell safari-wear. You might try Banana Republic across the way. (Gives a smirk which says: "I am given to undertand that THEY sell to anyone.")

Pela: Do you mean to tell me that I don't meet your standards?

(At this point, the Young Clerk reappears from behind the curtain and mercifully intervenes.)

Young Clerk (regarding Pela like someone caught pocketing the silverware at a dinner party): Can I help?

Senior Salesperson: Perhaps you can supply this gentleman with the name of that new downtown shop, which caters to persons of his...taste. I can't for the life of me seem to recall it. You know...the one named by that blasted Wolfgang Puck.

Young Clerk (thinking furiously for several moments): Oh! You must mean SYKH. (Young Clerk pronounces this as "chic".)

Pela: SYKH?

Young Clerk: It's an acronym. You know, a word that...oh, never mind. It stands for "Snarky Young Khaki-wearing Homosexual".

Pela: You interest me strangely. Give me the address.

(Thirty minutes later, Pela walks into the SYKH Boutique. Steely Dan's "Gaucho" is playing over the sound-system.)

Thin Young Man: Look what the cat dragged in!

Pela: Can it be that you are addressing me, callow youth?

Thin Young Man (looking at Pela's salmon colored polo-shirt and no longer immaculately creased khakis): We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Can I interest you in something with Mechlin Lace at the collar and cuffs?

The End

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Mr. Pela's account of his declasse shopping experiences did so tug at my heartstrings. Not, it must be admitted, quite so much as The Bridges of Madison County -- but one can only extract so much pathos from haberdashery.

I decided, therefore, to satisfy his longing for supercilious affront by writing a scenario, which I hope meets with his approval.

* * *

(Pela enters upscale men's clothier.)

Young Clerk (spotting Pela): The service entrance is at the rear of the building.

Pela: I'm not a tradesman. I'm here to buy clothes.

Young Clerk (giving Pela the once-over with a practiced eye): No soliciting.

Pela: You ARE an insolent monkey, aren't you? I demand to see the manager. At once.

Young Clerk (barely stifling laughter): The manager? I'm afraid he's busy at the moment.

Pela: Doing what?

Young Clerk: Managing.

Pela (reddening): I'm quite serious. Get the manager out here -- now.

Young Clerk: I might be able to get you the senior sales person. Just a moment. (Disappears behind a curtain.)

(A distinguished, elderly man in a three-piece suit, with a measuring tape draped round his neck, emerges from behind the curtain after an interval.)

Senior Salesperson (speaking through a frozen grin of the sort worn by someone who has sat in a spot of wet paint, and is mortified lest it become known and he is made the butt of public jest): May I help you, sir?

Pela: Is this a haberdashers or the monkey park at the zoo?

Senior Salesperson (smile freezing by 20 degrees): The last time I checked, sir, it was the former.

Pela: Very well, then. Your clerk seemed unsure. I'm looking for a pair of slacks.

Senior Salesperson (full of false obsequiousness): I'm afraid there has been a misunderstanding, sir.

Pela: Oh?

Senior Salesperson (almost apologetically): You see, we're actually a bespoke tailor, catering to gentlemen of means. We don't do off-the-rack. (Gives Pela's khakis another look while superciliously raising one eyebrow a sixteenth of an inch.) And we don't sell safari-wear. You might try Banana Republic across the way. (Gives a smirk which says: "I am given to undertand that THEY sell to anyone.")

Pela: Do you mean to tell me that I don't meet your standards?

(At this point, the Young Clerk reappears from behind the curtain and mercifully intervenes.)

Young Clerk (regarding Pela like someone caught pocketing the silverware at a dinner party): Can I help?

Senior Salesperson: Perhaps you can supply this gentleman with the name of that new downtown shop, which caters to persons of his...taste. I can't for the life of me seem to recall it. You know...the one named by that blasted Wolfgang Puck.

Young Clerk (thinking furiously for several moments): Oh! You must mean SYKH. (Young Clerk pronounces this as "chic".)

Pela: SYKH?

Young Clerk: It's an acronym. You know, a word that...oh, never mind. It stands for "Snarky Young Khaki-wearing Homosexual".

Pela: You interest me strangely. Give me the address.

(Thirty minutes later, Pela walks into the SYKH Boutique. Steely Dan's "Gaucho" is playing over the sound-system.)

Thin Young Man: Look what the cat dragged in!

Pela: Can it be that you are addressing me, callow youth?

Thin Young Man (looking at Pela's salmon colored polo-shirt and no longer immaculately creased khakis): We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Can I interest you in something with Mechlin Lace at the collar and cuffs?

The End

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Mr. Pela wrote:

"...a "tea emporium" called Teavana; and a restaurant known as True Food. (Who comes up with these names?)"

Wolfgang Puck. After the market for mediocre frozen entrees topped out, he started a registry of copyrighted restaurant names. According to Fortune Magazine, the idea came to him while surfing the Internet, after inadvertently misspelling a website name and being redirected to a page owned by a company which had registered seemingly every possible variant on that name, along with many others.

Now, every time a new restaurant opens in any major city -- a development which his vast team of legal barracudas keeps track of by reviewing city licensing requests on a regular basis -- the owners are contacted with an intimidating legal document notifying them that they are in violation of copyright law...but also informing them that the name is for sale.

All of the good names, of course, are exorbitantly priced, which in nine out of ten cases means that owners are either forced to think up a name so eccentric that even Mr. Puck's name-generating software was unable to produce it, or else to settle for a name which is less expensive but graceless and peculiar, like something from an L. Ron Hubbard novel (Teavana) or a farmer's market run by a Luddite collective (True Food).

 
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