Larry M. Wolf

[ Age 72 ] Rouse leasing executive gave a boost to little-known retailers, including Sharper Image and Williams-Sonoma.

April 20, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Larry M. Wolf, a talent scout for emerging retail businesses during his many years as a top Rouse Co. leasing executive who also discovered that pushcarts added profits and atmosphere to shopping malls, died of pancreatic cancer Thursday at his Naples, Fla., home. The North Baltimore resident was 72.

"Larry was always on the prowl for a new and different merchant," said Mathias J. DeVito, who was chief executive officer of the development firm from 1973 to 1984. "He had merchandising at his fingertips, and he took chances with people who were new in their field."

Mr. DeVito said Mr. Wolf persuaded Phillips Seafood, once based in Ocean City, to open in Baltimore's Harborplace in 1980, where it is now one of the city's largest restaurants.

He also lured what were once little-known retailers - Williams-Sonoma, The Children's Place, J. Crew and The Sharper Image - into Rouse centers and an expanded national audience.

"He was always on the lookout for one-of-a-kind merchants," Mr. DeVito said.

Born in Washington, he earned an economics degree at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. His thesis was titled "The Reasons for the Rise and Growth of Suburban Shopping Centers."

After service in the Army, he moved to Baltimore and ran his father-in-law's Classic Car Wash in West Baltimore. He answered a Rouse Co. want ad and was hired as an assistant manager of Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie.

Mr. Wolf became the manager of Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey in 1964 and of suburban Philadelphia's Plymouth Meeting Mall in 1966. He joined Rouse's leasing division in 1966 and obtained his certified shopping center manager designation a year later.

After serving as leasing representative for several shopping centers, he was named vice president and director of the retail leasing division in 1972 and senior vice president and director of retail leasing in 1978.

As leasing director, Mr. Wolf directed the leasing of numerous Rouse Co. urban festival marketplaces, including Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, New York's South Street Seaport and Harborplace, 21 new regional shopping centers and 33 mall expansions. When Faneuil Hall was initially short on tenants, Mr. Wolf brought in pushcarts and sought crafts people and artisans to sell their wares.

"It was his idea to put out a couple of old pushcarts and find craft vendors - and put them in for three weeks," said his son, Josh Wolf of Rodgers Forge, who added the move imparted a festive atmosphere.

He said his father always kept his eye out for something new. "He always rooted for the underdog and liked to take a chance on the willing novice in business."

The pushcart was later widely adopted within the shopping center industry.

Mr. Wolf became director of merchandising and creative services in 1993 and retired from the Rouse Co. in 1997.

In 1992, Mr. Wolf was one of the contributing authors in an International Council of Shopping Centers publication titled "Essential Factors in Shopping Center Leasing."

"He had a brilliant business mind," said his son-in-law Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen of Baltimore.

A fan of the theater, Mr. Wolf befriended Toby Orenstein from Burn Brae Dinner Theatre and helped her open the Columbia School of Theatrical Arts in 1975, as well as Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia in 1979.

He was a board member of Maryland Million, an annual day of racing where state thoroughbreds compete. He also bred and raced thoroughbred horses at Fast Kitty Farms.

Graveside funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Columbia Memorial Park, 10630 Little Patuxent Parkway. A memorial ceremony will follow at the Spear Center at the General Growth Building, 10275 Little Patuxent Parkway.

Besides his son, survivors include his wife of 18 years, the former Alice Clinefelter; two daughters, Stacy Wolf of Austin, Texas, and Allison Wolf of Anneslie; a stepson, Richie Olander of San Diego ; a sister, Marilyn Heffner of Naples, Fla.; and four grandchildren. His marriage to Saralee Cohen ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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