Miami lawsuit fights for Gucci, Chanel and other brands

You want to shop for handbags at Gucci, suits at Chanel or jewelry at Cartier and there’s only one place to go in South Florida: the 35-year-old mall called Bal Harbour Shops, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

Now, the developer of a new upscale mall is taking a rival developer to court for barring tenants-some of the toniest names in retailing-from opening a second store in the region.

Bal Harbour Shops’ contract with tenants violates antitrust law and creates unfair restraint of trade, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Rouse Co. Rouse is the developer of the Village of Merrick Park, set to open next year in the wealthy Miami suburb of Coral Gables.

The new Coral Gables mall will be about 15 miles from the Bal Harbour Shops in Bal Harbour, an institution for wealthy shoppers since 1965.

The Bal Harbour contract says if a first-floor tenant opens another store in Miami-Dade or Broward counties, it must pay Bal Harbour a percentage of the sales.

Exclusivity arrangements are not unheard-of in retailing, but Rouse, one of the country’s largest retail developers, argues that two counties with a combined population of 3.6 million are not a single market.

“We have the potential to bring these very special, one-of-a-kind merchants to the Coral Gables market, and to be prevented from doing that for contract reasons is wrong and it’s illegal,” Jerry Smalley of Rouse told the AP.

Bal Harbour owner Stanley Whitman, whose family has owned the mall since 1965, declined to discuss the lawsuit specifically, but he joked about being sued by the much larger Rouse. “I think it’s rather American that a `small’ company like Rouse should be taken advantage of by a `big’ developer like me,” he told the AP.

Whitman said he’s not worried that any of his tenants will want to leave his mall, where sales top $1,200 a square foot, but if they do, his waiting list stretches “from here to Africa.”

For Rouse to succeed in its lawsuit, which seeks triple damages, it must show that Bal Harbour’s restrictions are not a reasonable means of protecting its business, the AP reports.