Neiman Marcus's Minneapolis Departure

What Neiman’s exit says about local retail.

 Neiman Marcus: Another Department Store Bites the Dust

What stings even more than Neiman Marcus leaving downtown Minneapolis is the luxury retailer’s decision to exit this market completely. We all know downtown shopping is dismal, but Neiman Marcus studied the suburban alternatives and consciously turned away. There’s not even a plan to leave us with Neiman’s discount division, Last Call—like Saks Fifth Avenue did with Off 5th.

We liked knowing Neiman Marcus was there, and yet we didn’t shop there often enough. Most people I talked to reacted to the news with disappointment. “Shoot,” one friend said. “I was going to buy something there . . . one day.”

High prices weren’t the only factor. We can argue which came first: lack of shoppers or lack of complementary stores, but the fact remains that the locals who can afford Louboutin and Prada aren’t shopping downtown.

We don’t have a Michigan Avenue with a mile of A-list stores in the heart of the city. We have the Mall of America, with free covered parking.

For better or worse, it seems MOA would have been a smarter fit for Neiman Marcus. MOA executive vice president of business development Maureen Bausch tried, repeatedly. She views Neiman’s departure as a failure of department stores, not our market.

“The world changed because of the recession, and the department store model has evolved in response. Underperforming stores are closing. We’re seeing this happen all over the country, in some of the best urban areas and top malls,” Bausch says. “The Twin Cities can and does support luxury retailers; we have several that do very well.”

"The locals who can afford Louboutin and Prada aren’t shopping downtown."

But we are more Nordstrom than Neiman’s. Give us Chanel, but we want the option to fall back on Coach. Despite amping up its designer departments, Nordstrom plays to a broader audience with a bigger range of price points and an approachable attitude.

Luxury department stores have a history of dumbing down for the Twin Cities. Our Bloomingdale’s and Neiman’s never felt like their stores in Chicago or New York. They remained too high-end to attract the masses, and they repelled those who could afford to shop by not offering the best selection.

They drove their potential customers online, where the full gamut of luxury merchandise is available with a click and can be shipped for little more than the cost of downtown parking.

Neiman’s was not a destination unto itself, nor is trying on clothes in general enough of a motivator. When we do go to the stores these days, it’s for an experience, and downtown is not offering that. Thanks to a few local retailers that believe in the importance of downtown, we can buy jeans or a baby gift over the lunch hour.

But it’s not enough. Downtown needs to be compelling enough to justify the drive into the city, which, silly or not, many perceive as a pain.

While downtown officials continue to scratch their heads and fill vacant storefronts with boring offices, local retailers are answering the city shopping problem themselves—in the North Loop and Uptown, two dynamic urban areas with exciting new stores worth plugging a meter to shop.

Support them, or they will disappear.