Don't Blame Us, Bloomie's!

MOA moves on without an anchor

A rendering of the fashion wing that will replace Bloomingdale’s at Mall of America.

This time, the loss is not on us. We’ve grown accustomed to being dumped by luxury retailers. From Polo Ralph Lauren to Saks Fifth Avenue, the explanation is always the same: Minnesotans are too darn frugal to support high-end retail. Even those with deep pockets tend to be too conservative to spend on showy designer goods with the same zeal as shoppers on the coasts.

Maybe so, but I swear there is someone at the counter every time I pass by the Louis Vuitton store at the Galleria. Right brand, right place.

Bloomingdale’s, due to close in mid-March, was a chronic underperformer at Mall of America, even as the rest of the mall has thrived and trended upscale. MOA reported a record 10 percent increase in mall-wide sales for 2011 and a 3.5 percent increase in traffic. In the last two years, the mall lined the updated corridor nearest Bloomingdale’s with high-end brands including Burberry, Stuart Weitzman, and Michael Kors.

Nordstrom, too, has bolstered its luxury offerings at MOA, from Tory Burch to Chanel. As Macy’s thrust the hometown department store into moderation, Nordstrom saw an opportunity to capture jilted Oval Room shoppers. It worked.

Nordstrom also has wisely played to the tourists who account for four out of every 10 MOA visits. Better to buy your designer goods here: The money saved in sales tax on a Gucci bag pays for part of a pair of Jimmy Choo heels.

Bloomingdale’s didn’t showcase its best brands at MOA. The store lacked the energy and excitement of Bloomingdale’s in other cities.

“They never found their place,” says Stefanie Meyer, a senior vice president and principal with Mid-America Real Estate Group. “Our mark is still Dayton’s.” Nordstrom and Von Maur at Eden Prairie Center have been more successful at filling that void, Meyer says, by emphasizing customer service and lenient return policies. Nordstrom is well known for its experienced and accommodating team of personal shoppers. Bloomingdale’s, in comparison, had just one.

MOA isn’t bewailing the loss. Construction on the Bloomingdale’s wing was expected to begin even before the department store closed. Without an obvious anchor replacement, MOA owner Triple Five Worldwide says it will invest $30 to $50 million to reconfigure the hulking 210,000-square-foot store into a fashion wing. No names have been announced, but popular European fast-fashion brands Zara and Topshop—both of which have opened in Chicago—seem likely contenders based on the mall’s promise of “at least four major international fashion-forward retailers.” There’s been talk—just talk—of JCPenney or Von Maur, given the mall’s plans for a 90,000-square-foot store to straddle the first floor and a new basement. The third floor will be devoted to “value retailing.”

This gives us an opportunity to be a trendsetter,” says Dan Jasper, vice president of public relations for the mall.

Clearly, shoppers will be the judges of that.

What would you like to see in place of Bloomingdale’s at Mall of America?

These were some of the more popular responses on the Ali Shops blog:
• Zara
• Topshop
• Madewell
• Uniqlo
• Neiman Marcus