The son of an immigrant tailor, Leonard Farber hawked peanuts and frankfurters at New York’s Yankee Stadium as a boy in the Bronx. He also helped in his father’s shop after school each day, picking up and delivering clothes. He served as editor of his high school newspaper and set his sights on becoming a journalist. But when his father died, Farber was forced to go to work after graduating from high school to help support his mother and sister.
Farber’s first job was as a printer’s devil, earning $15 a week sweeping up discarded lead. Following a brief stint selling stoves, he became a rental agent in Harlem. Concurrently, he earned his broker’s license. When an apartment building came up for sale, he brokered it to the father of a friend and began managing rental property.
Farber’s career was interrupted by World War II. He spent three years in France and Germany, earning a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster and a Purple Heart. After the war, he was eager to return to real estate. Observing the population shift to the suburbs and the accompanying emergence of the family car, Farber persuaded A&P to anchor a strip shopping center with 12 other stores on Central Avenue in Yonkers. From the outset, it was very successful.
As his strip shopping center business blossomed, Farber turned his attention to bringing dozens of retailers under one roof, thereby pioneering enclosed malls. He wooed big-name department stores to become the anchors of his malls. Many doubted the popularity of this concept, but Farber won over his critics with honesty and integrity. In his 40 years of shopping center development, Farber created 33 shopping centers and enclosed malls, and he is credited with introducing retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus to the suburbs.
Although Farber spent a career bringing together builders, investors, and retailers, he said his greatest sense of accomplishment has come from pulling together his counterparts into the International Council of Shopping Centers, and he served as president of the organization from 1957 to 1960.
A former member of the Horatio Alger Board of Directors, Farber once said, “I believe we have an obligation to help raise the level of opportunities for young people. My advice is to find a business or career in which you feel comfortable and which you enjoy, because the more you enjoy it, the better you will do.”