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Many of longtime Las Vegas developer Kishner’s properties still stand

Tucked away off the north Strip, Somerset Shopping Center isn’t much these days.

Its throwback neon sign stands along Convention Center Drive. But the plaza, developed in the 1960s by Irwin Kishner and his uncle, is mostly empty, and vacant stores are in disrepair.

“I cry when I go down that street,” Kishner’s daughter Sharon said Friday, not just because of the memories but because “it doesn’t represent” all of the effort her dad put in.

Irwin Kishner died Monday at age 84 after suffering complications from diabetes and kidney problems. He was buried Thursday at King David Cemetery.

A native New Yorker, Kishner wasn’t the biggest developer in town, and his cluster of properties between Las Vegas Boulevard and the Las Vegas Convention Center — the shopping plaza, apartment buildings on the Kishner Drive cul-de-sac and a vacant lot where he tore down a motel several years ago — are far from the flashiest.

But he had been in Las Vegas since the Mob and Rat Pack days and, as you can imagine, had some good stories.

I met Kishner in 2015, when I wrote a story about him for the Las Vegas Sun. He was funny and blunt, a great interview, although he initially wasn’t sure about doing it.

(When I called to see if he would meet with me, he asked me to send him a letter, on company letterhead, outlining what I wanted to talk about.)

Sitting in his upstairs office at Somerset Shopping Center, he told me he moved to Florida when he was 13 and that he went to college there. South Florida was mostly transplanted New Yorkers and others, he said, but in the northern part of the state, “you’re going into Klan country.”

He moved to Las Vegas in 1960. “I didn’t have a covered wagon, but moving here was my pioneer adventure.”

He became friends with former boxing champ Jackie Fields and dated a Copa Room dancer, a blonde with a beehive who “had been involved with some mobsters and was in some movies.”

As for Las Vegas’ mafia days: “You knew what was going on. If you didn’t know, you were stupid.” He never took a payoff, he said, and some people in town “might say I’m a bastard, I’m tough, this or that, but I’m honest. I’ve never cheated anybody, and I’ve never lied to anybody.”

He also demolished his Somerset House Motel because, he explained: “Money was going out, not going in.”

His daughter Joanna Kishner, a Clark County District Court judge, told me on Friday that her dad’s shopping center was “a vibrant part of the community” with a pizza parlor, a grocery and a tavern. It also has potential for redevelopment, she added.

Sharon Kishner, a former disability-rights attorney and now an advocate for the mentally ill, said the plaza used to be “completely full.”

Workers at the pharmacy there “knew everyone on a first-name basis,” she said, and her dad was “devastated” when it closed after a national drugstore opened on the Strip. (A Walgreens is just down the street from the plaza, at the corner of Convention Center Drive and Las Vegas Boulevard.)

Irwin worked into his 80s, and even though he wasn’t as mobile in the past year, he still conducted a lot of business from home, said Sharon, who lives in Portland, Oregon.

She went to her dad’s office on Thursday to get awards from the walls to bring to his memorial service. Besides those items, the office hadn’t been boxed up.

“It looks as if it’s ready for him to walk in tomorrow,” she said.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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