PLEASE, SANTA, BRING ME A TENANT

These hectic days, all bargain-conscious holiday shoppers must, as a matter of faith, make their pilgrimage to I. Magnin.

I. Magnin, the luxury department store that helps anchor Sam Grossman's Biltmore Fashion Park, is going out of business. Everything in the store, remodeled only recently at a cost of millions, has been placed on sale. As the days wear on toward Christmas, the prices will be marked down further and further.

And, finally, there will be those last frantic days when everything is reduced drastically just before the doors close forever. No dedicated shopper can avoid such a trap.

Labels by famous designers are the spur that drives the ladies to the point of distraction.

If a cashmere sweater by a topflight designer like Missoni has a price tag of $800, there are dozens of competitive shoppers who will snatch it from the table when it's marked down to a mere $640.

A $1,200 dress bearing a Donna Karan label will prompt shoppers to wrestle each other to the floor to get first crack if it is marked down to, say, only $960.

They will go away happy and never look back. It will not bother them that cannier shoppers will wait another week or two for the sale to settle down, and then pay perhaps only half what they have paid for the same items.

Department-store sales, even those run by opulent stores like I. Magnin, are a game of manipulation and crowd psychology. That is why a store plays the elaborate game of closing the doors when it supposedly reaches its mythical capacity of 300 shoppers.

Do you ever see them close the doors of Ross Dress for Less or Target? No, you most certainly don't.

The operators at I. Magnin close the doors temporarily now and then so they can form a line of affluent bargain hunters outside in the mall.

Some may think they are doing this so you can pay these kinds of prices in comfort.

I don't agree. I see a more sinister motive. A line that is formed outside I. Magnin only helps to advertise that something exciting is taking place inside. For some shoppers, a line of their fellow addicts is a sign that they must also find a way to get inside this store.

How else do you account for the success of a truly second-rate restaurant such as Planet Hollywood? If a potential diner could stroll into Planet Hollywood as he can into any Burger King, there would be no reason to enter. Why go someplace everybody else can go?

Shoppers at Biltmore Fashion Park are drawn from the most affluent neighborhoods in the city. J. Fife Symington's Esplanade is just across Camelback. Christopher's restaurant is just across 24th Street. A man in Christopher's who orders a bottle of Chardonnay that costs less than $60 is not much of a man.

People who shop in these areas do not require markdowns. They do not even need clothes. Their closets at home are already bulging with items picked up at previous sales. In many cases, they have dresses hanging in their closets that remain unworn months, even years, later.

This is my theory. There is a hard core of 3,000 women living within the confines of Paradise Valley, Arcadia and Scottsdale who can afford these top prices. They are only too happy to pay them during their regular shopping excursions to New York City or Los Angeles.

These women make our local luxury economy run. They not only fill the department stores during the Christmas season, but also all of the overpriced restaurants with French chefs. It is their regular out-of-town shopping excursions that make America West Airlines and Southwest Airlines hum.

This is a situation that has obtained since the invention of Santa Claus to create a false sense of good cheer at Christmas.

But this season, there is an inner game of Christmas shopping going on that is wondrous to behold.

No one has been a keener student of shopping habits than Sam Grossman, the shopping-center colossus. Grossman has long been regarded as a modern-day Scrooge by the tenants who pay rent in his stores.

Grossman owns Biltmore Fashion Park and several other shopping centers in Phoenix, as well. He also owns a high-rise building on Central Avenue from which he operates his real estate empire.

Over the years, he has become so powerful that few merchants are willing to speak out about his high-pressure tactics.

Sharon Tuverson is the exception. For more than ten years, she ran a linens store named Tuverson's at Biltmore Fashion Park.

"When it came time for Grossman to build the I. Magnin store, he needed the space and so Grossman decided to kick us out," Mrs. Tuverson says.

"We had a good business, but we weren't grand enough for him. We were paying Grossman $6,000 a month and he raised it to $15,000. Over the length of our lease, we paid him more than $1 million in rent."

Mrs. Tuverson sees the irony of the situation. Grossman locked the doors on her store to get I. Magnin.

Once Grossman had I. Magnin in tow, he began negotiating to sell Biltmore Fashion Park for $100 million. That deal has now been placed in jeopardy by the closing of I. Magnin.

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