The challenge that comes with retail projects is finding the best design for a particular brand and its identity. Clients are faced with the struggle of finding the perfect contractor capable of meeting their idiosyncratic needs. This list compiles eleven of the best retail contractors in San Diego, California. The area in itself is replete with various malls and shopping centers designed with the Californian landscape in mind.
The contractors on this list have had the opportunity to work on some of these beautiful malls. The firms we have chosen to highlight were chosen based on their skills, their prior experience, their specialty services, and their range of expertise. These firms are the companies behind some of the area’s most recognizable retail structures.
3958 First Ave., San Diego, CA 92103
Headquartered in San Diego, Architectural Concepts offers a complete and comprehensive range of architecture, planning, and interior design services. It also offers brand identity development work for its hospitality and commercial endeavors. The firm’s team assists throughout the entire process, from conceptualization all the way to construction. It makes use of what it calls a “Consumer Concentric Design” process which integrates concept thematics and branding. Architectural Concepts is known to work closely with its clients throughout the design process and often tailors its steps to accommodate any specific needs and requests. It is also noted for its meticulous attention to budget, schedule, and details.
The Architectural Concepts team has a collective experience spanning nearly eight decades. Together, they have established a solid reputation for the firm for its excellent, well-planned services. The firm has accumulated a list of long-term clients throughout the years. The company is also proud to have several LEED-accredited professionals on its team: it is equipped to handle any sustainability requests that may arise during the process.
4080 Centre St. Suite #203, San Diego, CA 92103
Baker Architecture is a relatively small firm compared to others on this list, being a four-person team based in San Diego. But the firm offers a complete and impressive range of architecture and planning services. It specializes in tenant improvements and ground-up construction for restaurants, retail, residential, and commercial spaces and holds a number of important certifications. The firm’s process encourages active participation from its clients, and the result is more creative design solutions that better suit their individual needs. The firm oversees the entire design process from preliminary site planning and zoning research all the way through to design development and construction administration.
The firm is woman-led and is personally overseen by its founder and namesake Katherine Baker. She received her Bachelor of Architecture degree from Ball State University and first gained experience through working for two small firms wherein she was able to gain experience in a variety of markets, including commercial tenant improvements, restaurants, ground-up construction, mixed-use, and downtown redevelopment.
Benson & Bohl Architects
9237 Piantino Way, San Diego, CA 92108
Established in 1994, Benson & Bohl Architects’ projects are distinguished by their lasting architectural quality. The Benson & Bohl team is able to achieve this through an excellent understanding of each individual client’s needs, a site’s context, and detailed and realistic goals. By following this method, the firm designs and crafts no two projects alike and allows room for more creativity. The firm has been recognized multiple times for its work. The firm is the proud recipient of several Gold Nugget Awards, in addition to several other distinctions from organizations like the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Housing Authority. At the firm’s helm are Richard Benson and Randall Bohl, two experienced architects who see to it that they are involved and personally engaged with every project and every client.
Showcased above is one of the firm’s best retail projects. Completed for the San Miguel Ranch, it is perched on a hilltop at the corner of a busy intersection. The main challenge this project posed for the firm was being able to design a neighborhood center that would encourage shoppers to come up and visit. The result was this generous public plaza with an eye-catching tower coupled with Spanish-style buildings replete with details reminiscent of classic Mediterranean hillside towns. For their excellent work, the firm’s team was awarded a 2007 Beautification Award from the City of Chula Vista for the Best Planning/Urban Design and the Grand Gold Nugget Award as the Best Retail Project of 2008.
9921 Carmel Mountain Rd. #291, San Diego, CA 92129
Cubed Architects is a Native American-owned firm that provides clients a wide range of technical design experience in various fields of architecture. The firm primarily specializes in laboratory programming and design, project planning, site master planning, noise mitigation, but it has also worked on several retail and commercial projects. Cubed first started operating in Shawnee, Oklahoma back in 1975 where it thrived on working for both private and public clients in a variety of market sectors. In 1986, it was able to open an office in San Diego, California. The firm has since cultivated its reputation in the area much as it had in Oklahoma and has had the privilege of working on an array of interesting projects.
One such project would have to be the San Ysidro Luxury Display pictured above. Given that high-end retail luxury goods suppliers often have a signature style, the firm was asked to accommodate these styles in the most efficient way possible. It also had to work with the store’s detailed fixtures.
1053 Tenth Ave., San Diego, CA 92101
In business since 1984, Davy Architecture provides a full range of services for the retail, office, industrial, and hospitality development community industries. The firm is currently led by its second generation of architects and has since grown into becoming experts in a variety of other fields including healthcare and education. Its process emphasizes the importance of cultivating relationships and putting its clients’ visions into their designs, and the results have been nothing less than exemplary. Davy Architecture is proud to be a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business as well as employee-owned. It is also no stranger to recognition and is the recipient of numerous awards from organizations like the YMCA, the Society for Marketing Professional Services San Diego, and the Associated Builders & Construction.
The featured project is located in El Cajon. Formerly an existing 6,000 square foot facility, this Harley Davidson Dealership was transformed into a 20,000-square-foot space that features two showrooms for motorcycle, apparel, and accessory display, as well as a service shop, parts storage, and administrative offices. The firm’s team drew inspiration from the iconic brick Harley Davidson factory in Milwaukee and coupled it with several industrial elements.
1515 Morena Blvd., San Diego, CA 92110
Servicing the entirety of Southern California, Delawie has been in business since 1961. The firm has greatly contributed to the area’s skylines and has worked on various learning environments. The Delawie portfolio showcases a variety of corporate spaces which the firm was glad to take on their brandings, civic, and other government projects. Delawie specializes in not only architecture but also in interior design and master planning. It also infuses sustainable elements into its designs, rendering its spaces highly efficient. From the YMCA of the USA and LEGOLAND to Marriott International and the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, the firm has had the opportunity to work with a long list of clients highly regarded in their respective sectors: the company is no stranger to media attention and award-giving organizations.
Most recently, the firm’s work on the BioLegend Campus was named by the Engineering-News Record National as the “Best Project” nationwide. The same project also won the firm a San Diego Architectural Foundation Orchid in 2020. When it comes to retail work, the Delawie team strives to enhance urban environments and celebrate life, vitality, and the importance of interconnectedness. These priorities might best be seen in its work for Scotty Cameron, pictured above. Spanning 4,000-square-feet, the project is located in the famed beach town of Encinitas and is a boutique made for golf enthusiasts looking for equipment and other personal items.
Keoni Rosa Architect
2266 Westland Ave., San Diego, CA 92104
Keoni Rosa’s firm is driven and inspired by his four decades of experience in the industry, particularly in the fields of architecture, interior design, and graphic design. He closely watches over all of the firm’s projects and under his watchful eye has curated an excellent portfolio of commercial and residential projects rendered in a variety of themes. In particular, he and his team have designed numerous award-winning community centers, sports clubs, restaurants, bars, corporate offices, mixed-use developments, hospitality, custom residential, and of course, specialty retail projects. Rosa was born and raised in Hawaii before moving to Los Angeles to earn his Bachelor of Architecture from the California State Polytechnic University Pomona. He also studied Architecture in Florence, Italy through an International Program.
Under his leadership, he and his team are known for taking on projects regardless of scale and for assisting throughout the entire process from initiation to completion. Unlike most firms on this list, it also offers several other specialty services. Some of these include custom millwork design, furniture design and specification, and ADA accessibility work.
350 Tenth Ave. 10th Floor, San Diego, CA 92101
Operating out of its offices in Atlanta and San Diego, Larimer Design is an award-winning firm with an established reputation for its excellence in commercial, mixed-use urban infill development, recreation facilities, sports venues, entertainment venues, multi-family products, and custom residential projects. The firm works in partnership with its clients throughout the entire design process so as to be able to respond to their needs faster and more efficiently. This approach has enabled it to foster relationships with various brands throughout its years in business, enabling it to build an excellent roster of clients. The firm also goes the extra mile, incorporating numerous sustainability techniques and practices into its work with the help of several LEED accredited professionals on its team.
The firm is led by its namesake, lauded architect Tom Larimer who is an expert in commercial retail development, mixed-use development, urban planning, and sports and entertainment venue design. His work has received various awards including the prestigious Gold Nugget Award. Larimer Design has spearheaded construction and renovations in many sports and entertainment venues in San Diego, Atlanta, and Staten Island. The firm did the design for the Petco Park Craft Pier Party Decks. The 6,500-square-foot group area located in centerfield can accommodate groups of up to 650 people. Inspired by San Diego’s world-famous beaches, oversized lifeguard-themed seats cover the expansive boardwalk along with split rail guardrails, weathered pilings, and a surfboard pit.
M.W. Steele Group
1805 Newton Ave. Suite A, San Diego, CA 92113
Composed of a group of architects, certified planners, and urban designers, the M.W. Steele Group is an award-winning architecture and planning firm that anchors itself in highly contextual designs. The firm focuses on the communities its buildings serve and makes urban planning an integral and vital part of its processes. The firm has cemented strong relationships with some of the area’s most talented professionals and artisans. The firm is personally led by its founder and principal Mark Steele, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and a nationally-recognized professional. He has made his own personal contributions to the firm’s community by serving as Chair of the Barrio Logan Planning Committee and as a past Chair of the San Diego Planning Commission. He also takes the time to promote the use of sustainable materials and designs in the firm’s work.
Under his leadership, the firm won the Urban Design Merit Award from the San Diego American Planning Association and the Planning Firm Award during the San Diego Section 2017 Awards. Its portfolio depicts a variety of interesting projects, including its line of stores for jewelry, clothing, and furniture trailblazer Chrome Hearts. The re-invented building pictured above is one of the firm’s best works for the brand. Douglas fir, concrete, and bonderized steel house the store’s goods; a private courtyard complete with a hidden and obscure enclave leads to its more unusual products. For this project, the firm’s team adhered to Chrome Heart’s exclusive branding and designed no street-front signs.
Retail AMP Design
1620 Fifth Ave. Suite #110, San Diego, CA 92101
As its name suggests, Retail AMP Design (RAD) specializes in everything involving retail design, from conception all the way through to grand opening. The firm has worked on over a thousand grand openings in over 48 states after being in the industry for nearly two decades. RAD covers projects from coast to coast with presences in San Diego and Philadelphia. It still offers a boutique level of service—perfect for clients seeking teams that will be able to add a personal feel into their spaces. RAD specializes not only in architecture but also in interior design, construction management, and branded environments. As a full-service retail architectural firm, it does not outsource its core services and takes over every aspect of the project once designs and engineering plans are approved, ensuring that its team is there to oversee every aspect of a project.
Founder and principal Paul Alarico founded RAD after gaining valuable experience in store design, planning, and construction. He has more than 20 years of experience and contributed to more than a thousand retail projects in his career. He leads the RAD team in stunning developments and designs covering flagship projects and national rollouts of multiple locations. Most recently, he has supported the renovation of Westfield UTC. This includes architecture and engineering of Designer Eyes, Johnny Was, Acai House, Larsen’s Steakhouse, Credo, Marine layer, 100% Pure. RAD has also provided turnkey tenant Architecture and Engineering on behalf of Westfield including Hermes, Roche Bobois, Ted Baker, Vessel, and Bailey 44.
Smith Consulting Architects
13280 Evening Creek Dr. S Suite #125, San Diego, CA 92128
Smith Consulting Architects, otherwise known as SCA, is an award-winning firm best known for its master planning, architectural design, and interior design. It is one of the few woman-owned and led small businesses on this list with a diverse portfolio of projects from a variety of sectors. From corporate offices and healthcare institutions to laboratory and retail work, SCA holds itself to a higher standard when it comes to customer service and high-quality designs regardless of the market. The firm has worked with a number of interesting clients throughout the year, retaining many of them. Its staff is composed of the most talented and experienced architects and interior designers. As of this writing, its team is made up of ten licensed architects and 12 LEED-accredited professionals.
The firm’s retail work mostly consists of strips and promenades, with one of its best ones being the project shown above. Completed for the Flower Hill Promenade, this project challenged the firm with the large-scale renovation and demolition of an existing retail center and theater. Today, it is a 75,000 square foot mixed-use building with two stories and numerous tenant spaces. It was made with a design-build approach and includes its own four-level parking structure.
815 Civic Center Dr. Suite #101, Oceanside, CA 92054
Originally formed in Denver, Colorado back in 1982, Wagner Architecture first started out as an architecture division within a major real estate development company. From there, Wagner Architecture expanded to an independent firm, capable of taking on a variety of projects, including retail centers, restaurant designs, office buildings, recreation facilities, and vehicle maintenance facilities. The firm moved to San Diego in 1987 and established its headquarters there, while maintaining a satellite office in Denver. The firm is personally led by namesake Walt Wagner who, since moving the practice to his native Southern California, has focused on the design of automobile dealerships after having worked with household brands such as Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Kia, Acura, VW, and most other brands.
The firm has since designed and worked on numerous award-winning automobile dealership facilities. In 2005, the firm entered an alliance to act and work as the national dealership design partner with BMW and MINI for all of their retail facilities nationwide. The firm’s solid clientele list also includes names such as Audi, Mercedes, and Porsche.
402 W Broadway Suite #1560, San Diego, CA 92101
Ware Malcomb is a renowned firm with numerous offices both nationwide and abroad. The firm is led by CEO Ken Wink, President Jay Todisco, Executive Vice President Matt Brady, and EVP/CFO Tobin Sloane, and a team of talented and experienced professionals. Under their leadership, the firm has been distinguished with a multitude of awards and offers excellent integrated design services. Those services include architecture, planning, interior design, civil engineering, and branding for clients both in the public and private sectors. The firm is rich in corporate real estate knowledge, giving it important insight and the upper hand when it comes to contextualizing its designs. Its team makes use of Virtual and Augmented Reality throughout its process, rendering it even more accessible for its clients.
Given this extensive background, it comes as no surprise that the firm has been the subject of various magazine features and the recipient of several awards. Some of its most recent achievements include ranking as the 14th architect-engineer firm in the Engineering-News Record’s 2020 annual Top 500 Design Firms. It was also the fifth-best retail firm in the Interior Design Magazine’s Top 100 Giants 2020.