By  on December 9, 2008

CHICAGO — Vancouver-based contemporary retailer Aritzia, a relative newcomer to the U.S. market, is extending its reach.

After recently opening two Chicago area stores, a 4,300-square-foot shop in Chicago’s Water Tower Place along Michigan Avenue and a 4,167-square-foot store in suburban Northbrook at Northbrook Center, the retailer is setting its sights on a 3,750-square-foot space at Washington Square shopping center in Portland, Ore., expected to open next summer.

Earlier this year, Aritzia also unveiled a 2,500-square-foot location at San Francisco Centre Mall.

The retailer, which targets affluent young women ages 15 to 35 years old with brands such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloé, Ella Moss, Central Park West and Vince, said its foray into the U.S. has been successful so far.

“We’ve met goals,” said Zora Huculak, Aritzia’s communications manager. The sales projection for Water Tower Place, Aritzia’s largest U.S. store, is $2,000 a square foot, she said.

Prices in the Chicago store range from $32 to more than $550, including items such as a $32 Wilfred tank top, a $45 Talula tiered T-shirt, $65 Cheap Monday skinny jeans, a $568 double-breasted Marc by Marc Jacobs knee-length coat and a $550 leather bomber jacket by Mackage.

Counting its site in Portland, Aritzia would like to launch an additional six U.S. stores in 2009. No other cities are confirmed but the company is scouting sites in Denver and Scottsdale, Ariz., as well as a second store in San Francisco, Huculak said.

The expansion plan is “about what becomes vacant,” she said. “We’re just picking the best locations as they arise.” In that sense, the Canadian company has found the troubled U.S. economy is working in its favor.

“Customers are still coming in and buying,” Huculak said. “Actually, it has helped us in our real estate search. Certain spaces have opened up. There are more opportunities for top locations.”

Aritzia began its venture into the U.S. last year, opening a pair of estimated 3,000-square-foot spaces in November— at Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara, Calif., and at Bellevue Square Mall outside Seattle.

Although Santa Clara may have appeared an unusual starting point for Aritzia, it proved a good testing ground for logistics and pricing, Huculak said. “We realized our customer was definitely there. It’s a university town and the customer also has a high disposable income.”

The Seattle area was an easy next choice given that many shoppers there were already familiar with the brand, she said.

With its loungelike ambiance, Aritzia positions itself as an in-the-know purveyor of what’s cool and hip through its clothing selection (60 percent is exclusive, Huculak said), its music (not top 40) and its partnerships, including one with photographer Ryan McGinley, whose work has appeared in Vogue and W. McGinley’s photos appear on Aritzia’s Web site, as well as on shopping bags, boxes and gift cards.

“It’s a new way to expose our customers to something they don’t see every day,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t get it right away, but they do down the road.”

Aritzia, which began with a single store in Vancouver in 1984, now has 29 locations in Canada and the U.S. with an average footprint of about 4,000 square feet.

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