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Don’t Tell Macy’s: A Report Claims Gimbels Will Close

Times Staff Writer

Will it take a “Miracle on 34th Street” to save Gimbels? It will, indeed, if a report Friday in the New York Times is correct.

The paper reported that the two Gimbel Bros. stores in Manhattan--the flagship operation on West 33rd Street that was made famous in the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street” and a struggling outlet on East 86th Street--will be sold later this month for more than $130 million to London & Leeds Corp., a New York-based subsidiary of Ladbroke Group, a British conglomerate.

Both stores would be closed before year-end and the sites redeveloped, the newspaper quoted sources as saying. The closings would put 5,000 employees out of work.

However, principals involved in the negotiations splashed some cold water on the story.

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Gene Russell, a spokesman for Batus Inc., which has owned the Gimbels chain since 1973, issued a short statement: “We have no offer from London & Leeds Corp. We have not sold the 33rd or 86th street stores, and we are still negotiating for the sale of those businesses with a number of parties.”

Considering Options

A London & Leeds spokesman said that the company is “always looking at prime development opportunities in New York” and that it is “considering a number of options, including the Gimbels stores.”

Batus announced in January that it would sell the Gimbels chain because of its “disappointing performance.” Batus said Friday that it has signed a contract cementing a previously announced agreement for May Department Stores to buy three and possibly four suburban Gimbels-Pittsburgh stores.

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Batus said it will close two other Pittsburgh stores and sublease the seventh.

The Gimbels chain has 36 stores in the New York metropolitan area, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Batus has also announced plans to sell the Milwaukee stores.

The flagship store at 33rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan is a block away from Macy’s, its longtime rival. Competition between the two department stores gave rise to the phrase “Does Macy’s tell Gimbels?"--a warning against passing secrets to a rival.

In the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street,” Macy’s Kris Kringle would steer customers to Gimbels for better prices or selection.

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