Thursday, November 18, 2010

Von Maur to open in Atlanta?!!

If I had vision problems, this would be a moment where I would be adjusting my glasses at such news.  A midwestern higher end department store considering Atlanta?  I would have never expected this in my wildest imagination.  I have heard of Von Maur, but this is a store that I felt like was so firmly planted in the Midwest that they would probably never leave their market nor could survive outside of it.  Von Maur, known until 1989 as Peterson Harned Von Maur, has been a tradition in the midwest since 1872.  Started in Davenport, IA, the chain is still headquartered there and currently is found in 10 states with 24 locations with the furthest southern location in Missouri.  Indeed, this is a very, very bold leap for this company, which is still run by the Von Maur family today.

Image of a brand new Von Maur store from "The Pitch Blogs" by Jen Chen.

The jury is out whether Von Maur will be a hit in Atlanta.  Their first store and flagship will be opening at North Point Mall.  North Point Mall is a huge mall and generally considered a high end mall, but has suffered from being marginalized by the upscaling of Perimeter Mall, opening of Mall of Georgia in 1999 and subsequent losses of Lord & Taylor in 2005 and Parisian in 2006.  People have wondered for awhile what would fill this slot after Belk, another family-owned store, unceremoniously flopped badly in the mall's location.  This will definitely bring some cach√© back to this location, albeit through a store completely unfailiar to the market.  Von Maur plans to creatively deal with the garish exterior, which envokes the 70's.  They will also be expanding into the mall to increase the footprint of the store from 115,000 square feet to 140,000 square feet.

Future Von Maur location as Lord & Taylor in 2005.  The store operated as Belk from 2007-2009.

With Atlanta shoppers fickle, this is still a risky proposition.  However, it is wortwhile to consider two things: first, Atlanta is full of transplants from other areas including the midwest.  Second, Kohl's from Wisconsin has done considerably well here since it opened in 2001.  In addition, the market near North Point Mall is very underserved in terms of luxury retail despite a very affluent population.  Even with the overall regional economy still reeling, perhaps a new high-end department store in an existing location could still work and I certainly hope it does.  After all, it is worth considering that luxury giant Nordstrom was hardly familiar to the market when it arrived in 1997, and Neiman Marcus took a gamble when it arrived in Atlanta in 1972.  Both were phenomenally successful moves for those companies.  If this works, I hope then they will turn their sights to other Southern cities, such as Columbia, SC (Richland Mall), Charleston, SC and Birmingham, who lost their very own Parisian.  Von Maur seems like they have the right idea bringing luxury shopping to underserved markets, and their success in Atlanta will be the key to these future expansion efforts.


  1. I'd like to see Von Maur come in and succeed in Atlanta. I'd imagine there would be a stigma about them being a Midwestern chain, but they're certainly competitive with Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor.

  2. If Von Maur is like Parisian, it should do well- there is a big void to fill between Macy's and Bloomingdale's/Nordstrom/Saks/etc.

    And yes, cities such as Columbia, Greenville, and Charleston miss Parisian- the highest-end department store in those cities now is Belk.

  3. Growing up in Des Moines, I shopped at Von Maur some. There isn't much difference in Von Maur or Macy's or Belk. It will be strange to see a familiar name now in Atlanta, but won't really be a draw for me. If Von Maur wants to succeed in Atlanta, they'll need to upgrade their moderate merchandise.

  4. The Atlanta "style" is showy but conservative. Midwestern style is a bit more restrained. Unless, they really looked at the market and figured out how to adapt, they'll be toast. Nordstrom is just glitzy and bran name enough to fit. Nieman Marcus is a good fit. L&T was a bit to much "classic".

  5. This is great news for North Point. By finally bringing in a new upscale anchor to serve the wealthy North of Atlanta suburbs, this will definitely bring some activity to that end of the mall, which seems quite dead to me as far as people actually being in that part of the mall. At North Point, you pretty much see the most people between the center court and the food court area these days. So, I think this will get NP busy in all parts again.

    Did you know that Von Maur offers interest-free credit cards and complimentary gift wrapping (in a time when many stores, notably Macy's, has discontinued this service)? I'm sure that when people catch wind of that, it'll quickly gain some popularity.

    This still begs the question: What is North Point going to do with the old Parisian? I just kind of feel like with this new store coming, it's kind of an eyesore. My idea would be, and this is if Von Maur proves successful, would be to have Saks Fifth Avenue come in and gut the Parisian out, much like VM is doing with the old L&T/Belk, and operate a secondary store to the "flagship" at Phipps. Of course, can Atlanta support two Saks stores? I would actually be inclined to say yes. Think about it. People who live particularly in the North Suburbs have kind of an attitude about "going into Atlanta". With a Saks at North Point, they can have access to a small yet convenient selection of luxury merchandise. Given the small square footage of the space, the offerings should be limited to women's apparel and shoes, cosmetics, and children's apparel. However, for a more "complete" experience, they'll still have to go to Phipps. I just think this is the best method so as to not completely cannibalize sales at Phipps. I also say Saks over Neiman's because Saks is slightly less persnickety about where they open stores compared to NM.

    But anyway, yeah I can visualize a new and more luxurious era coming to North Point within the next couple of years.

  6. You're probably right, Tres, about a more luxurious era coming to North Point. Around 2006, NM signed on as an anchor in a lifestyle center a few miles up the road near Cumming, and after two years of occasional articles about the center in the Atlanta paper, it was finally announced that the center wouldn't be built. NM wasn't about to build a free-standing store right off an exit, so they were forced to abandon their plans. With a better economy in the future, one of two things could happen: North Point could begin to transform itself into another Perimeter or Lenox, or somebody could build a lifestyle center nearby and get NM, Saks, as well as Nordstrom.

    Makes me wonder, though, if NM did build a free-standing store at an expressway exit, would they have a valet gas station - and how much would they charge for gas? Could you get a can of motor oil gift wrapped?

  7. The entire facade of L&T has been removed and it's now being redone in red brick. Signs throughout the mall announce an early November opening date.

    I'm confused by the walled-off areas that seem to define the new space. On both floors von Maur seems to run from the Dillard's entrance across to the Parisian entrance. But on the second floor the old hallways remain, so you can look down on the vacant and unrenovated children's play area. It's like an upside-down version of what Saks did at Phipps.

    The von Maur in the Yorktown Center in Lombard, IL looks remarkably like the Nordstrom at Perimeter, complete with the three-level atrium and the balcony with a grand piano.

    In addition to a brand selection that overlaps Nordstrom, they offer free gift wrap and shipping. I bought some things for my mother at a store in Des Moines and they sent them to her ready for Christmas.

    I'd love to see a small Saks open in the old Parisian space. Unfortunately, their experiment with smaller stores didn't do well, with Charlotte, Charleston, and Hilton Head all closing.

  8. Hey JT. Just as a heads up, in case you didn't know, Von Maur's grand opening is this Saturday the fifth! You should check it out!