Glendale’s 1st Department Store Falls to Competition : Sale to End Webb’s 67-Year Reign as Retailer

Times Staff Writer

A clearance sale that began Tuesday at Webb’s of Glendale marked the beginning of the end for the department store that was the first in the city.

After 67 years of serving customers, Webb’s is going out of business, a victim of competition from larger department stores in the Glendale Galleria and from other stores in the Glendale Fashion Center where it is situated, the store’s operators said.

“The pie has become too thin,” Mark Ortman, president of H. S. Webb & Co., said in explaining the store’s departure from the Glendale retail market.


The store has until Aug. 15 to vacate the building it leases in the center, Ortman said. It will be replaced by a sporting goods store, he said. Another Webb’s store in Redlands will remain open and will honor the accounts of the 30,000 charge customers at the Glendale store, Ortman said.

The decision to close Webb’s, which was founded by businessman Harry S. Webb in 1917 as a one-room store, was announced last week and has upset customers. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of phone calls, most of them asking, ‘Where are we going to shop now?’ ” Ortman said, noting that the store caters to the older generation.

Closing the store, Ortman said, was a “very difficult decision” for its board of directors to make. But faced with dwindling sales, the board determined months ago that closing Webb’s doors was the “prudent thing to do,” he said.

For nearly 50 years after its founding, Webb’s was the only major department store in Glendale. But it began to get competition--first from Robinson’s when it opened at the Fashion Center in 1966 and later from stores in the Galleria, which opened in two phases, in 1976 and 1982. With the Galleria’s completion, shoppers in Glendale could choose from among such department stores as The Broadway, Buffum’s, J. C. Penney, Mervyn’s and Nordstrom’s.

Ortman said that Webb’s hit a peak of $8 million in sales in 1974, but has been averaging about $5 million for six years.

Besides competition from other stores, Ortman said, Webb’s was hurt by a 1977 fire that gutted its original store on the corner of Brand Boulevard and Wilson Avenue, where Mervyn’s now stands. The store found temporary quarters at the old J. C. Penney store on Wilson and California avenues until moving to the Fashion Center in 1979.


“The big problem is that at the Brand and Wilson building we had twice as much space as we have here,” Ortman said of the three-story, 68,000-square-foot building Webb’s now occupies. “We had to cut out departments and consolidate different areas.”

Sportmart Inc., a Chicago-based company, will be taking over the remaining 24 years on Webb’s 30-year lease at the Fashion Center. Ortman said the sporting goods store plans to open sometime in October or November.

Ortman, who has been with Webb’s for 12 years, said he is saddened by the store’s closing, particularly because several of its 125 employees have worked at the store many years. He mentioned a clothing buyer for the men’s department who has been with the company 58 years. That man probably will retire when the store closes, Ortman said, but most of the others will be looking for jobs.

“We’re going to try--I’m going to do my best--to place them with other employers,” Ortman said. He doesn’t foresee too many employees transferring to the Webb’s in Redlands because of the distance, Ortman added.