Filene's Basement is dead. So are Syms and Daffy's, and at times it has looked like the mother of all off-pricers, Loehmann's, might join them in the great retail Hereafter. New ownership and management stepped in, however, and saved the 40-store chain. Now the Chelsea flagship store has undergone a Century 21-style renovation after a realization that one could no longer compete in the off-price market with charmless, cluttered and poorly lit stores. The question is whether or not the newly spruced up Loehmann's can still compete for New York's bargain hunter dollars?
Though Daffy's, Syms and Filene's are gone, New Yorkers still have plenty of options when it comes to off-price shopping. Burlington Coat Factory has taken over Filene's Basement in Union Square in addition to its longtime Sixth Avenue home, though they still don't seem to have gotten the "fix yourself up" memo. Nordstrom Rack has arrived along with reported plans to add more locations in Manhattan. In addition, hometown favorite Century 21 has had a major renovation and expansion of its once chaotic Financial District flagship as well as opened additional branches around the city. Then there's the endless schedule of sample sales and the ease of online discount shopping with sites like Gilt and RueLaLa. How the newly reconfigured Loehmann's will stack up against all these competitors remains to be seen, but they are moving in the right direction.
The Shophound hasn't visited Chelsea's Loehmann's in a while, but the first thing we noticed when we walked in this week was open space. The crush of accessory racks and cases on the main floor have been sent upstairs in favor of more popular contemporary sportswear to lure customers through the store's picture windows on Seventh Avenue. It makes the store feel more inviting and relaxed. Downstairs in the basement, the Men's department (at left) has been similarly eased up with it's maze of high racks also reconfigured to make more breathing space. Upstairs, the rest of the store has been similarly eased up and given a fresh coat of paint along with more artfully arranged selling areas. Accessories, Handbags and shoes are now on Two, while the most prestigious designers are on three known as the "Back Room", and here's where Loehmann's may be falling short. Loehmann's legend has always included the potential of finding the most exclusive designers wares marked down to a song quietly waiting to be discovered by a savvy shopper, but what seems to be missing from the refreshed store is the high-end merchandise that made the company's name. The selections seem to top out at the high end of Contemporary with little of the exclusive designers that still seem to make themselves available in abundance at Century 21 and occasionally at other off-pricers. There was, of course, plenty of Theory, a healthy rack of sister label Helmut Lang and some Tory Burch, but most of what we saw was mid-range contemporary, a great deal of which could easily have been drawn from what many designers manufacture specifically for off-price channels. The story in Men's was the same, and in Accessories when only a couple of years ago, shoppers could spot off-price Fendi and Gucci, there were now big displays for Ivanka Trump's brand. Perhaps Loehmann's biggest challenge now will be getting the kind of exlusive merchandise that will get New Yorkers to go out of their way. Still, as we made our way out of the store we spotted ageless Fashion Icon Iris Apfel on her way into the store's Personal Shopping office (there's no mistaking those huge round eyeglasses and the shock of white hair). Though clearly not as luxurious as the same department at Bergdorf's or Saks, if Loehmann's personal shopper has a customer who once had her own exhibition at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there must still be something worth checking out there.