An Australian real estate development firm that has been buying up retail chains across America, including the tony Bonwit Teller stores, has named a veteran U.S. retailer to head its American operations.
Michael J. Babcock, 46, was named president and chief executive of New York-based Hooker Retail USA, a division of Hooker Corp., which has amassed an $800-million retail empire in six months. In addition to the Bonwit Teller chain, Hooker Corp. owns B. Altman and Merksamer Jewelers. Before joining Hooker as president and CEO of Bonwit, Babcock held the same titles at Filene's, a unit of Federated Department Stores. Previously he was chairman of G. Fox & Co. in Hartford, Conn., a division of May Department Stores. He was senior vice president at May Co. California from 1974 to 1976.
Babcock, who also was named a director of Hooker, reports to George Herscu, chairman and controlling shareholder of the Australian parent company.
The company's move into the United States began in June, 1986, with the purchase of 80% of Merksamer, a California-based jewelry store chain. Last August, Hooker acquired Bonwit, which closed its Beverly Hills and Palm Springs stores in 1986. Hooker plans to expand the 13-store chain.
Earlier this month, Hooker acquired a 58% stake in B. Altman, a New York-based department store chain. Hooker is currently completing a leveraged buyout with the management of Parisian, a specialty department store chain of 16 stores based in Birmingham, Ala. With Sakowitz, which is currently operating under the protection of federal bankruptcy laws, Hooker is making a major investment in the Houston chain.
The U.S. retail operations fit into Hooker's plans to develop huge shopping malls. The so-called hypermalls are built around 200,000 square feet, combined supermarket-discount store operations called hypermarkets. Hooker's retail operations can help support such malls by being tenants. Two such malls are under construction in Cincinnati and Denver. Four others are planned.
Babcock also said the firm is very interested in the California market. "We think that there is definitely opportunity in California for at least one or two of these businesses."