Chains Aren't the Enemy

New brands are coming to town.

russell + hazel
russell + hazel are among the brands opening stores at Galleria.

Back in December, I wrote about The North Face opening at Galleria directly across the corridor from Trail Mark. I did so for a couple of reasons: One, because it’s a story that has become more common lately at the Edina center known for its upscale mix of local and national tenants. And two, because there was a twist: It was not the “big business as bully” scenario one might assume. Rather, the smaller, independent store encouraged the coming of the national chain because its name and reputation draw a crowd that benefits everyone at the mall.

Still, I got an e-mail from a reader who perceived a bias toward the local store. “There is often an incorrect assumption,” he wrote, “that small, locally owned businesses provide much better and more personalized service.” The reader told me Trail Mark has historically not stocked his size, and he found his fit at The North Face. My take, and I think both North Face and Trail Mark would agree, is that it’s good to have options.

True, we do a lot of celebrating local businesses in this magazine—they help define what makes our cities special and distinct. They’re underdogs, and their successes and failures feel personal because their owners are our neighbors and friends.

The Twin Cities marketplace has always been particularly sensitive to the local versus national issue. Our track record with big department stores would make any national retailer think twice about opening here. We like our hometown stores—although sometimes, it seems, more in theory than practice.

I remember Galleria’s former leasing manager telling me several years ago that in the modest Twin Cities, where we’re more inclined to downplay a logo than wear one on our sleeve, designer brands sell better through local boutiques than through single-brand company stores. So mother-daughter-run Melly was preferable to a Lilly Pulitzer store, and Pumpz & Company preferable to Mulberry or Bettye Muller.

The advantage of a good boutique is its curation—the expert eye showing you the best of a particular style or mood across labels, which is how most of us dress, rather than head to toe in one brand.

But even Pumpz & Company owner Marlys Badzin says the national stores are critical. “It’s something like standing on the shoulder of giants. A project of only one-off boutiques will have the same fate as Riverplace.”

Pumpz & Company is remodeling the former Three Rooms space and will move in before fall. Another of Galleria’s longtime locals, Fawbush’s is expected to complete a total remodel this month, as new management encourages retailers—local and national—to bring their A-game.

The Galleria’s new retail leasing manager, Jennifer Smith, is redefining “unique” for the center. It might be an independent boutique, she says, but it could also be a national player, like Kate Spade, that doesn’t have a store anywhere else in town.

Among the stores opening in the coming months at Galleria: designer jewelry brand David Yurman, preppy sportswear brand J.McLaughlin, men’s shoe retailer Allen Edmonds, and locally owned paper collection russell + hazel, which is relocating its only brick-and-mortar store from Linden Hills.

All of that will bring Galleria to nearly 100 percent occupancy and working on expansion plans. And that’s got to be good for the Twin Cities.