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Glendale Galleria celebrates 40 years

The front signage of the Glendale Galleria, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next week.

The front signage of the Glendale Galleria, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next week.

(Tim Berger / Glendale News-Press)

Next week, the Glendale Galleria will celebrate 40 years operating as a downtown fixture in the city.

The indoor mall has helped shape downtown Glendale since it opened on Oct. 14, 1976. Originally centered around four department stores, it later brought the Galleria II expansion, and in 2013, went through major renovations anchored by the opening of a two-story Bloomingdale’s.

Today, more than 200 stores fill the 1.6 million square feet of retail space.

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The interior of the Glendale Galleria, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next week.

The interior of the Glendale Galleria, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next week.

(Tim Berger / Glendale News-Press)

Brent Gardner, who works with both mall tenants and customers daily as the Galleria’s general manager, said the location must continue to operate as more than a transactional stop for customers. Gardner works on giving the shopping center a human face through community development.

“Shopping is a very communal experience. People come here for the stores and not a lot of people know I exist, so I focus on customer-facing enhancements like seating and parking,” Gardner said. “We want to make sure that every possible touch point that I have an impact on is good, clean, safe and as exciting as possible.”

Massis Kabob is one of the few original businesses in the Galleria that is still in operation. Owner Hecop “Jack” Baghdassarian — who still runs the restaurant all day, seven days a week — introduced gourmet food to customers who were accustomed to a quick burger or hot dog long before Chipotle made fast-casual a popular dining experience.

Baghdassarian’s son, Gevik, practices law out of one of the Galleria’s affiliated office towers. He still helps his father at Massis Kabob, which he’s watched grow from it’s humble 330-square-foot local storefront tofive locations — four of them in other Los Angeles malls.

“Back then, people had no clue about Mediterranean food. You literally had to sit there and explain what a kebob was,” Gevik Baghdassarian said. “It sounds so foreign today because you walk into a Trader Joe’s now and there are 14 different varieties of hummus and falafel — but there definitely was a learning curve for the American palate.”

Hecop Baghdassarian and his family emigrated from Iran to Glendale in the 1970s. Despite not having a formal education or experience in the food industry, he became an entrepreneur to provide for his family.

“The Galleria has always had a special place for my family and me because not only am I a lifelong resident of Glendale, but we saw the mall in its many phases and it’s kind of where my dad started his life over again,” Gevik Baghdassarian said.

The Galleria’s history as a mall features many firsts for several retail chains. The first Panda Express opened alongside the mall’s first expansion in ’83, the first Disney Store followed a few years later, and in 2001, the Galleria opened one of the first two Apple Stores ever. Some Apple enthusiasts have even made the trek to collect a receipt that designates the store as 001.

Mayor Paula Devine has shopped at the Galleria since 1982 and understands why major retailers are eager to partner with the city.

“They know that Glendale is going through a renaissance, and we have now become a destination, and so people are coming here to shop, to dine, to walk — for many reasons — and [retailers] want to be a part of it,” Devine said. “Glendale is just blossoming.”

Judee Kendall, president of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, said she recalls when the mall first opened and said it filled a retail void that revitalized Glendale.

“The Galleria has been a great corporate partner to the businesses in Glendale, and I think they’ve worked well with the city,” Kendall said. “They’ve just been a great neighbor.”

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Jeff Landa, jeff.landa@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeffLanda

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