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A Grand Idea : This ‘Monster’ Story Had a Fairy Tale Ending for Founder of Del Amo Mall

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Guilford Glazer set out 21 years ago to build the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, there were those who thought he was creating the shopping-center equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster.

“Some of the very top people in the industry thought it would be too big and wouldn’t work, and we were concerned about it,” Glazer said. “But it was really personal opinion.”

And Glazer ignored it.

“The way a businessman works is that he takes a deep breath and jumps into the river and believes he will swim to the other side because he must,” he said.

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Glazer and the firm he owns, the Torrance Co., not only built Del Amo but later expanded it well beyond its original blueprints. Today, the 357-store mall, which sits on 140 acres, can claim title to being one of the largest malls in the world and is by far the biggest in Los Angeles County.

Glazer, recalling the early days of the mall’s development, admits that he himself was surprised that the cities surrounding Del Amo grew as fast as they did, providing the population base needed for the mall’s continued expansion. An amalgam of existing stores and new ones, Del Amo was finally completed in 1980.

“We didn’t know a lot about what we were doing,” Glazer said. “Nobody really guessed the South Bay would grow like it did.”

At 70, Glazer still oversees his Century City-based company, but he rarely sets foot in his office, preferring instead to work from home.

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He devotes most of his energy to various philanthropic causes, including Operation Exodus, the worldwide project to resettle Soviet Jews emigrating to Israel.

But the Tennessee native usually visits Del Amo once a week to make sure his credo that a mall is only as good as its management is being carried out. At Del Amo, he said, the focus has always been on details such as keeping the premises spotlessly clean.

Even restaurant workers’ fingernails don’t go unnoticed by Glazer.

“Guilford has always been a stickler for maintenance and upkeep on his property,” said Torrance Co. President Jim Jones. “He’ll come (to Del Amo) on a Saturday afternoon and spend, gosh, four or five hours.”

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Glazer, whose company owns a majority stake in Del Amo, believes malls are popular with shoppers because they provide a controlled environment. For example, parents can go to a mall and not have to worry about their children getting injured by a car.

With their large number of stores, malls also give thrifty shoppers a chance to easily walk from store to store to compare price tags. “Eighty-five percent of your shoppers are ladies,” he said. “They like to compare prices. Therefore it takes a lot of stores.”

And malls may provide people with a sense of community. “It is a revisitation of a small town, but on a small scale,” Glazer said.

Despite the intense competition from other major retailers and discounters outside malls, Glazer said he believes mall stores can prosper. This is especially true at Del Amo because many tenants either own their own stores or leased space many years ago when it was cheaper to make improvements, he said.

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"(Stores situated in malls) do have to constantly modernize and change things and avoid a tired look, but their overhead is not as high as current free-standing stores,” Glazer said.

He said he believes more malls will be built, although the number of malls the size of Del Amo will be limited by the availability of land. And malls will continue to evolve to meet merchandising trends, he predicted, but mostly in ways that will go unnoticed except by the most discerning shopper.

“You don’t notice it, but it is changing every month,” he said.

One change that Glazer believes may not work is the building of a giant theme park based on the Snoopy character, inside a mall in Bloomington, Minn. Called the Mall of America, it will have 400 specialty shops when it opens in 1992.

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Although Glazer said he has the utmost respect for Mall of America developers Herbert and Melvin Simon, he said combining amusement rides with shopping may fail because parents like to accompany their children on such rides until they reach a certain age.


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