FASHION: Ready to Wear 

With fashion in the air and a host of new choices, will Richmonders be better heeled?

Perhaps not. Lord & Taylor, which is slated as an anchor store in Short Pump, recently announced it will be closing 34 of its underperforming stores (including the one in Norfolk’s MacArthur Center) to concentrate on its core markets in the Northeast and Midwest. Lord & Taylor is not obligated to open its Short Pump store until fall of 2004 and “discussions are going on for somebody to take over [the space],” says Sharon Bateman, vice president of communications for the store’s parent company, May Department Stores Co. If the company can’t divest the store, Bateman says, it will open and operate the Lord & Taylor in Short Pump because it is contractually obligated to do so, but it is actively looking to unload it.

Brian Glass, senior vice president of retail brokerage at Grubb & Ellis/Harrison & Bates Inc., says May Department Stores Co. likely would be obligated to fill the space with a similar upscale tenant like Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s.

Nordstrom, however, plans to open along with Short Pump Town Center on Sept. 4, and according to its public-relations specialist John Bailey, the store already has loyal Richmond customers. Whether they travel to one of Northern Virginia’s three stores, Norfolk’s MacArthur Center or even farther to one of the four Maryland stores, Bailey says there are 8,100 Nordstrom credit-card account holders in the Richmond/Petersburg area. But will our Nordstrom be up to par with the others that we’re used to shopping in?

All department stores are generally ranked A through E, depending on the square footage. “A Nordstrom in Richmond, Virginia, is not going to be the same as the Nordstrom in a top-10 metro market,” says retail analyst Ken Gassman. “Richmond is something like a top-60 market, so we’re not going to get an A store. But Nordstrom is upscale so you’re going to get a representative of upscale brands. Where it would cut back would probably be at the top end, and the bottom end, too. Are we going to see lower quality? No. Will we see less selection? I think yes.”

The Short Pump Nordstrom has 120,000 square feet — less than both the MacArthur Center (160,000 square feet) and Tyson’s Corner (253,000 square feet). During a tour of the new store, Nordstrom representatives pointed out that the company has learned to use space wisely and fit more into smaller stores. “Having a smaller space really causes us to listen to customers closer to find out what they are looking for,” Bailey says, emphasizing the company’s renowned customer service.

Glass says Nordstrom is unlikely to make the same mistakes it did with the well-publicized public outcry against the Norfolk store, which he calls “a total disaster.” “They built a C store and it looks like a C store,” he says, and customers were not happy. “Having said that, the [Short Pump] store is not going to be the size of the Tyson’s store, so it’s not going to be an A or an A-plus store.”

So what’s the saleable merchandise for Richmonders? That’s the question buyers from stores new to Richmond have been trying to figure out. Many have taken trips to Richmond to scope out local looks. Cindy Schultz, the East Coast buyer for Nordstrom’s “Savvy” department — its most progressive women’s department — pounded the steamy pavement in Richmond to check out what people are wearing on the street and what styles and brands are being offered in local boutiques.

“I noticed that a lot of people were wearing contemporary labels and trends — women of all ages, too, which was pretty exciting,” Schultz says. Her Savvy department will offer such labels as Trina Turk, Juicy Couture and Diane von Furstenberg, designers that can already be found in small quantity in Richmond at local high-end boutiques like A. R. Bevans, Frances Kahn, Coplon’s, Levy’s and Pink.

But Schultz also plans to bring new brands like Isabel de Pedro, Save The Queen, Harveys and Smashing Grandpa. Schultz says she noticed Richmonders wear denim both day and evening, so she also focused on bringing new denim brands like AG Jeans and Von Dutch.

For men, Bailey says buyers have made sure to offer more career options. “We want a really great offering of suits because of the state government.” The men’s department will offer “updated classic” apparel with brands like Burberry, Ted Baker London and hip apparel such as Diesel, 7 jeans, Ben Sherman and Academics. For men and women, Nordstrom offers a wide range of sizes. It carries men’s dress shirts in 60 different sizes and women’s shoe sizes range from 4 to 13, and from widths AAAA to WW. Bailey calls the store “inclusive” and says that in addition to the high fashion, Nordstrom also offers classic and more traditional looks.

Dillard’s will be the largest department store in both malls. And with one in each, the Raleigh, N.C.-based chain aims to dramatically grow its market share in Richmond. It operates five stores in the Richmond area: Willow Lawn (scheduled to close in October), Virginia Center Commons, Southpark Mall, two stores in Chesterfield Towne Center, and six stores in Hampton Roads. Unlike Nordstrom in MacArthur Center, which didn’t meet shoppers expectations, Glass says, the Dillard’s in Norfolk was more attractive physically and a better success overall.

Larry Cailteux, Dillard’s vice president and mid-Atlantic district manager, says the new larger stores, each measuring about 200,000 square feet, will give Dillard’s the chance to show off. “We’re going to be putting in an A assortment, the same we put into the MacArthur Center in 1999.” But the Norfolk store is 45,000 square feet larger than the two new Richmond stores, and an A ranking isn’t Dillard’s highest distinction or rating: 300,000-square-foot stores get A-plus merchandise and assortments. Nevertheless, the new Dillard’s stores will be of the same caliber, he says, and superior to other Dillard’s in the area.

Cailteux says Dillard’s plans to enhance its shoe departments with names like Stuart Weitzman and a host of lines exclusively available at Dillard’s, including one designed by one of the founding partners of Nine West. The move undoubtedly is an attempt to compete with Nordstrom’s famously diverse shoe selection.

Although the department stores coming to Stony Point and Short Pump may not be the level of stores in Washington, D.C., what Richmond ultimately stands to gain in fashionability is more selection of brands now available only in small quantity at boutiques. And as the two largest department stores, Nordstrom and Dillard’s will be bringing the widest selection.

The most upscale department store to open is the 80,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue at Stony Point. While significantly smaller than the others, Saks offers a limited selection of high-end fashion for those looking for the latest looks. And don’t discount the small, upscale chains like Coldwater Creek (Short Pump) and Adrienne Vittadini (Stony Point), Glass says. That type of store targets professional women with household incomes in excess of $70,000. According to Glass, those stores are what classify these malls as upscale. “When you’re talking about $400 jackets and $170 skirts, you’re talking about an upscale shopper.” S

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