The Sweet Buy-and-Buy

At Dadeland, besides a force of seventeen unarmed private patrolmen, individual stores hire their own uniformed and undercover guards. One burly rent-a-cop stands at parade rest against a wall all day long in the elegant furs department of Jordan Marsh. The Metro-Dade Police Department maintains a two-man, around-the-clock Crime Suppression Team to patrol the parking lot in an unmarked car, in addition to regular armed officers who stroll through the mall common areas. Off-duty Florida Highway Patrol personnel are often called in for big sales.

Apparently the last example of gunfire at Dadeland was the July 1979 shoot-out between rival Colombian drug gangs that left two dealers dead and two store employees wounded. But that, Garland points out, was in the no man's land of the parking lot, and took place at a time when Dadeland still had a liquor store as one of its tenants. These days, besides lost children and a bit of shoplifting, there are a couple of pockets picked per day, and an occasional car break-in. But not many. Burglaries, too, are extremely rare. When the crowds wander out Dadeland's eighteen exits at the end of another day, the nighttime alarm system inside the eerily empty mall is so sensitive that its motion detectors are sometimes triggered by a frond falling from a palm tree or a child's helium balloon jostling gently against the towering ceiling.

Dadeland's location turned out to be ideal in more ways than one. It is the American shopping mall closest and dearest to Latin America. Strategy Research Corp.'s recent survey concluded that 35 percent of Dadeland shoppers are out-of-town visitors, overwhelmingly from Central and South America and the Caribbean. Many merchants believe the figure is actually much higher.

But even if Latin American shoppers do not yet outnumber locals, their money does. South Florida residents who shop at Dadeland have an average household income of $35,660, compared to $53,900 for nonresidents. Overseas visitors spend an average of $245 inside the mall during each excursion, versus a piddling $182 for locals. Though slightly more picky about mall cleanliness and appearance, Latin American spenders linger 40 minutes longer in Dadeland, part with twice as many dollars for food and drink, and are far less concerned about security and high prices.

"To be honest, we don't rely on local customers at all," says a salesman at Florsheim Shoes, one of only fifteen surviving tenants from the original mall. "Eighty percent of our people are South Americans. They don't fool around. They have the money, and they walk in and say, `I want this and this and that.' Local people might try on a pair of shoes and say, yes, these feel comfortable, but let me think about it. I saw another pair at a store over there.' You wind up spending an hour with them and not making a sale. I had a friend at the Merry Go Round who used to have this Colombian guy come in. He would walk in the store and just say, `Give me one of everything that's on sale -- just wrap it up quick.'" The Oriental trade is important, too, adds the salesman. "Yesterday we had eight Japanese tourists in here. They packed the whole store. And they spent $1500 in ten minutes."

At Bon Voyage, Miami's exclusive seller of German Gold-Pfeil luggage and leather goods, the customer guest book lists few locals, and shows that the last fifteen sales were made to visitors from Santiago, Chile; Villa Nevarez, Puerto Rico; San Salvador, El Salvador; Lima, Peru; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Panama City, Panama; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Brasilia, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; Kingston, Jamaica; Buenos Aires and Mendoza, Argentina; Santiago, Dominican Republic; and Caracas and Valencia, Venezuela. "Someone came in from -- where was she from? -- Colombia, and bought an eight-piece set of Lark luggage, top-of-the-line stuff," says Jose Ortega, Bon Voyage's soft-spoken, gentlemanly manager, recalling a recent $7000 sale. "Americans just don't do that any more -- they buy a piece at a time. Overseas people take advantage of their annual trip to Miami."

In fact, Dadeland's overseas shoppers are now making the trip almost as frequently as Kendall residents. In the three months preceding the March 1990 survey, foreign respondents said they had shopped at Dadeland an average of three times, compared to five visits for locals. The 24-story Dadeland Marriott, built in 1982 across the street from the mall on the site of an abandoned German POW camp, owes more than half its business to out-of-towners who come to Kendall for the express purpose of shopping at Dadeland. Another large portion of guests at the 303-room hotel are spouses and children of corporate travelers who also wind up shopping at the mall. The average stay at the hotel is two and one-half days. "Out of the Latin American market, 100 percent of our guests have on their mind one thing: Dadeland Mall," says Annette Martiz, the hotel's director of marketing. "We have gotten into the habit of storing things for them. If they're going on to Orlando, they don't want to be carrying suitcases full of clothes, and microwaves."

The extent to which Dadeland is becoming a trans-Caribbean shopping mecca has not been lost on mall management. "From 1979 to 1983 we did a few overseas promos, some advertisements in airline magazines," says Dadeland general manager Mel Mendelsohn. "It was kind of hit-or-miss. Now our efforts are very targeted, very direct." Besides ads in Vanidades, a popular monthly magazine sold throughout Latin America, Dadeland's latest media blitz features hour-long extravaganzas on Brazilian television and a two-page spread in Spanish-language Cosmopolitan, to run four months in thirteen countries. In the ad, Dadeland is touted as a dream destination through a special write-in lottery. The winner gets $10,000 in cash, a round-trip ticket to Miami, a week at the Dadeland Marriott, a rental convertible, and dinner with an as-yet-unnamed Latin American celebrity hunk.

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