In 1965, when owner/developer Stanley Whitman opened Florida’s first exclusive, high-fashion shopping center on what had been the site of a World War II army barracks, retail experts scoffed at Bal Harbour Shops’ upscale store mix.
At that time, the norm was to mix essential service tenants — such as grocery and hardware stores — with retail. And, with the advent of air conditioning sweeping the nation, enormous enclosed malls surrounded by seas of asphalt parking as far as the eye could see were being built at breakneck speed. Bucking this popular trend in shopping center development, Bal Harbour Shops was designed to celebrate the balmy beauty of South Florida. Ideally situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay in the affluent village of Bal Harbour, the lushly landscaped, open-air mall didn't look or feel like any other center in the United States. Even its parking areas with their generous palm canopy, were designed with comfort, convenience, and natural beauty in mind.
Bal Harbour Shops’ early success was largely due to Whitman's resolve in persuading Neiman Marcus, in 1971, to open its first specialty department store outside its native Texas and in luring designer boutiques that previously could only be found along the Champs-Elysées in Paris or on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Attracted by the immediate success of Neiman Marcus, in 1976, Saks Fifth Avenue became Bal Harbour Shops’ second anchor store and Bal Harbour Shops became the very place in the world that Neiman and Saks would both call home.
Recognized as the forerunner of luxury shopping mall developers, with many "firsts" in the industry, Stanley Whitman was considered somewhat of a maverick for which his merchandising of the shopping center stands as the greatest testament. The coveted collection of stores that Whitman assembled was unparalleled and quickly became the industry benchmark, generating the highest annual sales productivity in the nation. Bal Harbour Shops was the first shopping center location that many famed European merchants chose as the site for their first ventures outside of New York. Today, this "Shopping Hall of Fame" is home to 100 of the world’s most famous and most luxurious fashion and jewelry brands and often draws comparison to New York’s Madison Avenue and Beverly Hill’s Rodeo Drive.
In September 2012, the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Shopping Centers Today magazine named Bal Harbour Shops the “world’s most productive” as ranked by sales per square foot. The open-air luxury center, with its $2,555-per-square-foot in sales, is nearly seven times the ICSC-estimated $451-per-square-foot industry average, notes the cover story. Indeed, with just two exceptions (following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and Great Recession of 2008), sales at Bal Harbour Shops have increased every single year since its opening in 1965.
Though the opulence and style of Bal Harbour Shops was the embodiment of one man's dream, the elder Whitman is fortunate to have his son Randy Whitman and grandson Matthew Whitman Lazenby to share his passion for this family owned and managed business.
By today's mega mall standards, Bal Harbour Shops’ 450,000-square-foot, al fresco shopping experience seems refreshingly intimate, although its economic impact rivals the super-regionals. As Bal Harbour Shops nears its half-century mark and with its last addition occurring in 1982 with the construction of the second level of stores, plans are underway for a 250,000-square-foot expansion. To accommodate the lengthy waiting list of luxury stores that want to bring their exclusive brands to this premier retail center, an additional 40 stores is anticipated, including a third anchor store.