A mall with a new economic twist

glendale galleriaThis is a story about the Glendale Galleria -- not to be confused with that other Galleria, the one in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley that gave us those gum-popping, air-headed teenage "Valley Girls" parodied by musician Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit.
No, the Glendale Galleria put itself on the map by doing something far more notable: It figured out how to save its own behind and help struggling artists at the same time.

The Glendale Galleria is a major mall -- the fourth largest in Los Angeles County with 1.47 million square feet of leaseable space. And like all other major malls, it experienced the same recessionary store closings and vacancies as tenants drifted off into economic oblivion. What's different is what the Glendale Galleria did about it: They took some of that unrented space and gave it away rent-free.

The mall management created a store called Local Collection, which features the work of a group of hand-picked local designers with original merchandise. The designers pay no rent, but proceeds from all sales are split 50-50 with the mall. The Galleria's income from the venture is already "in the ballpark" of rent it would have collected from a full-paying tenant, according to a mall spokesman. Could this be a trend in the making?

Thirty designers are represented, culled from more than 100 candidates. Wares include clothing, housewares, jewelry, novelty items, exotic metal sculptures, wool handbags and women's hair accessories that include ostrich feathers -- made by hand by Charlotte Kruse, owner of the Sweet Evie line.

Kruse, who until Local Collection opened was peddling her wares by literally going boutique-to-boutique, said she only dreamed of being in a big mall. "It's been great," she said, "I've sold a ton." She makes all her pieces herself and says her designs are "influenced by hard times in history." Talk about being born at the right time, then.

The mall, of course, hopes that when the economy improves, there will be a breakout designer who rents store space of his/her own. "Local Collection provides designers a chance to shine and start a retail business without the up front costs of owning their own store," says Janet LaFevre, senior marketing director for Glendale Galleria.

A mall that does good. Take that one to the bank.
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