By  on April 18, 2008

NEW YORK — The kids division of Abercrombie & Fitch Co., abercrombie, plans to move into the Fifth Avenue space Brooks Brothers is vacating.

Sources close to the situation said Brooks Bros. will exit 666 Fifth Avenue, on the southwest corner of 53rd Street, around February 2009, and abercrombie will build a prototype 22,000-square-foot flagship to open in 2010.

For Abercrombie & Fitch, the project reflects a strategy of placing flagships at high-profile venues in the U.S. and abroad. Abercrombie’s Hollister division is launching a prototype at 600 Broadway in SoHo in the first half of 2009. The two-and-half-year-old Abercrombie & Fitch flagship on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street generates in excess of $100 million in annual sales.

Brooks Bros.’ decision to create a second Manhattan flagship on Fifth Avenue about eight years ago raised eyebrows because of the proximity of the 93-year-old Brooks Bros. store on Madison Avenue and 44th Street. The Fifth Avenue unit, essentially a big glass box, failed to capture the Brooks Bros. aura, which is personified by the dark-wood-paneled Madison Avenue venue that oozes tradition.

“The Fifth Avenue location has not been representative of the brand,” said Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Bros. “The other reason for leaving is I don’t believe in a two-flagship strategy within nine blocks of each.

“We have full intention to rebuild the Madison Avenue flagship, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Madison Avenue in 2015,” he said. “We want to make sure that Madison Avenue is the real ambassador.”

The company bought the 120,000-square-foot building last year for that purpose. About half the space is for selling and half for the company’s headquarters.

“Both stores are doing very well, but I am sure they’ve been cannibalizing each other,” Del Vecchio said. “We really want to refurbish the Madison Avenue store to represent the brand. We realized it was a better opportunity to invest there, and a better business opportunity than signing a new long-term lease” on Fifth Avenue.

Del Vecchio stressed that Brooks Bros. wants to increase its presence in Manhattan, aiming to open four or five stores comparable to the 9,300-square-foot unit on Broadway at 65th Street near Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Brooks Bros.’ fourth Manhattan store is at One Liberty Plaza in lower Manhattan.The Fifth Avenue location is comprised of ground, second floor and lower-level space, with a double-height glass storefront and 28-foot ceilings, according to the Cushman & Wakefield marketing brochure. The site also has 192 feet of frontage wrapping around the corner.

Also at 666 Fifth Avenue, additional space is being created to accommodate another retail tenant that has yet to be determined. Rents on Fifth Avenue around 53rd Street are said to be about $1,500 a square foot.

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