By  on March 28, 2007

It's not the grandiose master plan once envisioned, but the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship has a fresh round of renovations in store and a new manager to orchestrate the changes.

The strategy, while cautious and proceeding piecemeal, includes a doubling in size and relocation of the shoe department, a new bridal salon and the remodeling of the third level that houses the evening and fur salons and the Fifth Avenue Club for personal shopping and designer collections such as Akris, Chado Ralph Rucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta.

Also on the drawing boards: rebuilding the behind-the-scenes infrastructure, developing closer connections to customers through technology and a remodeling of the restaurant on floor eight with a "state-of-the art" kitchen that also caters Saks parties.

"We want to make sure our flagship represents Saks and our designers in the best way possible and that we're doing that in the right time frame," said Suzanne Johnson, who became group senior vice president and general manager of the Fifth Avenue flagship last month. "It's probably not as fast as the original plan because of the sheer economics. It's an old building. Whatever we do is very expensive."

The 646,000-square-foot flagship, with roughly 340,000 square feet for selling, is Saks' biggest asset. It's critical for the chain's revival, accounting for about 20 to 25 percent of sales, or roughly $650 million to $700 million of the chain's total volume, which came to $2.94 billion last year. Between 12,000 and 15,000 people visit the store on a typical day, though the count can be as high as 20,000. Despite the wear and tear, it's said to be in better shape than most other old buildings. Opened in 1924, the store was expanded into the Swiss Tower on Madison Avenue in 1989. Some major renovations have already occurred in the last few years, including building a perimeter of designer accessory shops, a larger fine jewelry department on the main floor and an updating of designer sportswear on two, with the addition of new shops for Ralph Lauren Black Label, Piazza Sempione, Armani Collezioni, Dusan and Loro Piana.

The plans for the flagship come amid reports that private equity firms and some retailers have been kicking the tires at Saks, which has been showing improved results lately. Anyone considering buying the business would first focus on the flagship, which is owned by Saks and is estimated by real estate sources to be worth over $1 billion.

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