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From Disney Store to Tiffany's, The New Santa Monica Place Aims For Happiest Mall On Earth

For beachside locals, Santa Monica Place provided the quintessential mall experience throughout the '80s and '90s. (Fun fact: it was featured for mall scenes in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pretty in Pink and Beverly Hills, 90210).

At some point, though, it started to seem comparatively shabby next to the breezy and bustling environs of the adjacent 3rd St. Promenade. The original Frank Gehry-designed structure was funky but seemed pitifully retro. It was very much in need of a remodel. As we saw at the grand opening Friday, what S.M. Place got instead was an extreme makeover, mall edition.

Mall rat invasion.
Mall rat invasion.
Lina Lecaro

Re-opening to enthusiastic throngs early Friday morning, the shopping mecca was a sight to behold. They blew the roof off the sucker (literally)... It now has a fresh and modern feel with a host of new upscale stores (Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Kitson) and shops geared toward younger audiences, the most anticipated being the new Disney Store.

Who's the fairest of them all?
Who's the fairest of them all?
Lina Lecaro

Warning: don't bring young girls in here unless you're prepared to walk out with a little princess in full (not so cheap) fairy tale finery. The happiest place on earth (well in the mall), has a castle replica right in the center of the shop, complete with a magic mirror that, depending on whose "wand" you wave in front of it (Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Tiana from Princess and the Frog or Ariel from The Little Mermaid) shows a holographic image of that character.

We could not tear our daughter away. Well, that is, until she saw the "Disney Store Theatre" in the back, filled with coloring tables and screening non-stop commercials for old and new Disney films. Colorfully, clever marketing = kiddie crack!

Other stuff that'll make your child never want to leave this place include a CARS-branded RIDEMAKERZ experience in which customers can build their own custom car and an extensive stock from current films like Toy Story 3.

The store -- which held its own opening presentation with appearances by Mickey and Minnie-- had hands down the longest line on opening day. Free Mickey ears for the first several hundred patrons surely helped.

More interactive features were seen at much maligned gothster trend hut, Hot Topic, which boasts make-your-own t-shirt kiosks for band fans and a giant video screen blasting mostly noisy, loud metal and gloom rock.

HT (as they're calling it now) in S.M. will in fact, will be a musical hub, with regular appearances by bands of this ilk: Coheed and Cambria will be there tomorrow, Aug. 11, at 7 p.m.

See the store's website for future appearances.

Now that it can compete with open-air retail havens like The Grove and The Americana, tourists and locals alike are sure to flood The Place's businesses and attractions, the more interesting of which include: Joe's Jeans new digs featuring giant mechanical claw game (you know, the kind that lowers into a pile of stuffed animals and never seems to be able to grasp one?), Love Culture's seductive, red-hued fashion emporium (think Forever 21 meets Alice in Wonderland), a host of outdoor restaurants on the top level and a cool exhibit of artistically embellished mannequins throughout the northern side of the mall called, "The Mannequin Collective."

Check the Santa Monica Place website for a complete list of stores and events.