Harrods, London's famous and fashionable department store, is talking seriously with Walt Disney Co. about opening its first American store as part of a Disney retail and entertainment development proposed for downtown Burbank.
The store, most likely a boutique, would probably be one of several retailers that Disney hopes would give an international flair to the proposed 40-acre marketplace, which would resemble a movie back lot.
Plans are still sketchy for the planned $612-million "Disney-MGM Studio Backlot" in Burbank. The city is still negotiating with Disney about whether it will develop the city-owned parcel of land.
With a go-ahead from Burbank, Disney would score a retailing coup in attracting Harrods. Through the years, Harrods reportedly has turned down invitations to join many major U.S. retailers, including Bloomingdale's and Orange County developers Irvine Co. and C. J. Segerstrom & Sons.
What makes Harrods so special is its reputation as a store where customers such as Queen Elizabeth II can buy anything from cashmere sweaters to herring to burial arrangements. Harrods every year holds a legendary New Year's sale that draws shoppers from all over the world.
While Harrods' tweedy image might make it a hard sell initially, it would bring to Disney a uniqueness that is all but guaranteed to draw customers from across Southern California, competitors said. And with Disney's magic name, Harrods is taking a much smaller risk than if it entered America in a conventional mall.
For the Burbank project, for instance, Disney executives have talked about building the "Burbank Ocean." Shoppers could stroll the waterfront on a set resembling Tokyo's Ginza Strip built against international shops, said William R. Kelly, Burbank's community development director, who discussed some preliminary concepts this week.
Disney officials, in fact, have also mentioned Mitsukoshi, Japan's oldest and most prestigious department store chain, in connection with the Burbank project.
That would be a natural match because Mitsukoshi has a successful souvenir shop at Walt Disney World in Florida. Moreover, Mitsukoshi houses a Harrods boutique in Tokyo and Harrods has a Mitsukoshi corner in its London store.
Mitsukoshi has not yet talked with Disney about opening in Burbank, but "If asked, we would not decline," said Katsuhiko Nitta, a company vice president in New York.
The international flavor is seen by some retail experts as crucial because of the proposed project's location only about 13 miles from the Glendale Galleria, one of California's top grossing malls.
"We'd like to distinguish our project from other retailing projects in the areas where we put them," explained Alan Epstein, a vice president with Disney Development Co. So "we will be pursuing international retailers as one of many alternatives."
In London, an assistant to Mohamed Fayed, the chairman of Harrods, confirmed that "If things do go ahead, (Disney will have) a Harrods boutique . . . with all Harrods merchandise."
Burbank officials expect to hear more next month about what Disney envisions for the Burbank project. Disney was selected last year to prepare a plan for development.