By keeping conveniences such as a barbershop, Rosenfield gave up the rental income he could have demanded from more elite tenants.
The mart is compact; modern zoning codes probably wouldn't permit such tight quarters to be built again. Most of the stores are small by current retail standards and configured in odd sizes. But Rosenfield asks for some of the top rents on the Westside, at up to $5 a square foot a month compared with the $2 range retail landlords get in the Wilshire-Bundy district, said real estate broker Orbell Ovaness of National Equity Advisors Inc.
"It's Brentwood Park," Ovaness said of the mart's neighborhood. "The elite of the elite."
Not all of Rosenfield's moves at the Mart were successful. A New York-based bakery and restaurant failed to take off, and a children's clothing store from Seattle declined to renew its lease.
Rosenfield, however, is in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose stores -- he says he has dozens of businesses waiting for empty spaces. Backed by investors such as billionaire Charles T. Munger and John Bucksbaum, the chairman of massive mall chain owner General Growth Properties Inc., Rosenfield is able to wait years to land someone he really wants.
"Jim knows how to merchandise a property," said Herb Simon, former chairman of Simon Property Group Inc., one of the world's largest mall operators. "He finds unique tenants that are one of a kind or very small chains that most developers don't have the time to do."
Rosenfield pitched the merits of the Country Mart to the nanny of a businesswoman in the Bahamas whom he was hoping to lure to Southern California. He eventually succeeded in bringing her Calypso clothing store to the mart.
His latest coup is an ice cream parlor to be operated by Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, who opened the popular Huckleberry bakery this year in Santa Monica. The pair plan to make small batches of ice cream daily starting in January. Both restaurateurs grew up on the Westside, said Loeb, who has a nostalgic connection to the Brentwood center.
"I must've gone to Reddi Chick 5,000 times," he said.
It will take all of Rosenfield's persistence to re-create country marts in other prosperous communities, where competition is well entrenched. But it can be done, he insists. After all, the beloved Brentwood center was just another calculated commercial venture in the late 1940s.
What made it work and can be duplicated is its human scale, Rosenfield said. Keep it cozy, with a fire pit and picnic tables that invite strangers to sit together under umbrellas. Awnings and planter boxes were used to soften the edges when the Country Mart was new, and they still have that effect today.
"People have a strong preference for independently owned and operated shops, exceptionally good food and services like shoe repair," Rosenfield said. "Those are things in my mind that define a country mart."