Bloomingdale's Readies for Friendship Heights
Store to Anchor Wisconsin Place
by Ylan Q. Mui, Staff Writer
September 24, 2007
WASHINGTON, DC - Bloomingdale's is planning to open this week in Friendship Heights, helping to anchor a shopping district that developers and local officials hope is becoming Washington's version of Fifth Avenue.
The upscale department store will hold a private reception tomorrow for local officials and other bigwigs to get a sneak peek. It will open to the public Thursday.
Bloomingdale's chief executive Michael Gould said the 182,458-square-foot stand-alone store at Wisconsin and Western avenues NW will carry the chain's most up-to-date merchandise in the region. It also operates stores at Tysons Corner Center in McLean and White Flint Mall in North Bethesda.
"We have a lot of faith in this community," Gould said during a recent tour of the new location. "This is our best foot forward in Washington."
The three-level red brick store is significantly smaller than the chain's average of 270,000 square feet. To accommodate the space, Bloomingdale's remodeled the store's home department to include mainly contemporary and "updated traditional" merchandise. It has kept its personal shopping service and bridal registry. Bloomingdale's is hiring about 250 people for the store.
The chain caters to wealthy women ages 25 to 54. The demographic has been a lucrative one. Upscale department stores have been particularly strong performers in recent years even as their mid-market counterparts have reported more-tepid sales. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, monthly sales at luxury stores open at least a year have risen an average of 8 percent so far this year -- well above any other retail category.
Bloomingdale's lower-priced sister chain, Macy's, has struggled since its parent company bought May Department Stores for $11 billion two years ago and converted the company's regional chains to the Macy's banner. Meanwhile, Bloomingdale's has been on a growth spurt. In the past year it opened stores in San Francisco; San Diego; Orange County, Calif.; and Chestnut Hill, Mass. The Friendship Heights location is its 40th store.
On a recent afternoon, workers put up fixtures and installed the escalators. Jack Hruska, Bloomingdale's executive vice president of creative services, leaned on a sleek white counter in what would become the cosmetics department. He said the store's glossy black-and-white decor was an expression of its Manhattan flagship on 59th Street.
"As Georgetown of a look [that] the building has on the outside, it's New York on the inside," Hruska said.
Bloomingdale's said it had little control over the exterior design of the building. The store had been under construction for several years and was to become a Hecht's before the merger with Macy's.
The decision to make the Friendship Heights store into a Bloomingdale's was prompted by the neighborhood's wealth and the luxury retailers nearby: Neiman Marcus and the Saks Fifth Avenue men's store in Mazza Gallerie to the south and Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren boutiques in the Collection at Chevy Chase to the north.
"That's one of the signature retail destinations in Montgomery County," said Kevin Maloney, chairman of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. "Bloomingdale's is a trademark retailer, and we think that they will serve our community very well."
The stretch of Wisconsin Avenue NW has become a hotspot for retailers lured by the region's wealthy residents and proximity to the Friendship Heights Metro station.
New England Development, in a partnership with Boston Properties and Archstone-Smith, plans to turn the land around Bloomingdale's into a mixed-use development called Wisconsin Place. The site will include a Whole Foods Market, 432 luxury apartments, 290,000 square feet of office space and 75,000 square feet of additional retail. It will also feature a community center and several parks.
According to the developers, the 2006 median household income within a mile of Wisconsin Place was $163,030. That figure is expect to grow to $178,616 by 2011. And 39 percent of the 500,000 people who work within five miles hold graduate degrees.
David Gilmore, vice president for New England Development, said he expects a few small retailers and restaurants to open in the spring. But most of the site, including the Whole Foods, won't be ready until the end of next year.
Bloomingdale's will remain open throughout the construction, Gilmore said. About 850 spaces in the parking garage underneath the store will be open, he said. The garage will eventually have more than 1,700 spaces.
"Although there is construction going on around it, it's going to be easy to get in," Gilmore said. "People should not be put off by the construction that's in the area there."
Still, Maloney said he expects the store will increase foot traffic to the area. Wisconsin Avenue may not be Fifth Avenue yet, but it's on its way, he said.
"I think Bloomingdale's is a big piece to the puzzle," Maloney said.