By FRANK SWERTLOW

Staff Reporter

After nearly three decades as the owner of the Polo shop on Rodeo Drive, Jerry Magnin has sold his store to New York-based Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.

The move, for the moment, ends the career of one of Rodeo Drive's most influential retailers. It is also the latest buyout of an independent merchant by a deep-pocketed clothing manufacturer on the famous Beverly Hills retail strip.

Magnin had exclusivity for Polo stores in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The buyout means that Polo, which will take over the store at 444 N. Rodeo Dr. later this summer, could create other stores in these areas, Magnin said.

Polo, he added, could also open outlet stores like the one outside Palm Springs.

Polo Ralph Lauren currently operates 43 stores in the United States. A spokeswoman for Polo Ralph Lauren said it was too early to discuss plans for the store.

Ron Michaels, president of the Rodeo Drive Committee, called Magnin one of the "pioneers of Rodeo Drive, " adding that the retailer "was one of the few people who had a vision of what it should be and what it eventually turned into."

Magnin, who did not disclose terms of the deal, said one element in his decision to sell was the death of a son last March. Since then, another son has developed a heart condition.

"It was time to take a couple of months off and smell the coffee," Magnin said. "But as an owner, I am responsible for the well being of a lot of people and you just can't walk away and say you want to be with your family. Selling frees me of this."

The departure of Magnin from Rodeo Drive follows the closing of Fred Hayman's boutique last month. The property has been leased to the French leather company Louis Vuitton, which is expanding its presence on Rodeo Drive. The franchised Gianni Versace boutique also closed last month. It will be replaced by a company-owned store. Another Rodeo Drive clothier, Symphony One, sold its franchise back to Hugo Boss earlier this year.

"It's a wake-up call for everybody," said Magnin. "It's getting tougher and tougher for independents."

Michaels, who also is the manager of the Louis Vuitton boutique, disagreed with that assessment. "I see this as positive," he said. "There is a lot more power and funds to promote the street."

Magnin's great grandmother founded the I. Magnin chain in 1876, and he grew up working in the large retail arena before opening his own cutting-edge boutique, Jerry Magnin's on Rodeo Drive.

This store was the precursor to the Polo shop that opened 1971, the first freestanding Polo store in the country. The current store opened in 1987.

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