By  on April 11, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Kent Gushner is a man on a mission.

“Our store has always been known as the premier upscale men’s store in Philadelphia,” said Gushner, president of Boyds. “Now we want to be known as the premier upscale retail location in Philadelphia.”

And $2.5 million later, Boyds is well on its way. Last week, the specialty store completed phase one of a renovation project that is designed to catapult Boyds into a whole new league. The initial moves include a dramatically increased women’s wear presentation, a new upscale jewelry department for both women and men, a revamped cafe now operated by the city’s top chef and an enlarged and relocated men’s shoe department.

“We reached the conclusion that, to take Boyds to the next level, we had to step outside of men’s and build a different kind of store,” Gushner said during a walk-though last week.

The catalyst for the revamping was a change in ownership last May when Gushner, grandson of the store’s founder, Alex Gushner, purchased the business from his father and uncle. His partners are his brothers-in-law Jeff Glass and Ralph Yaffe, who serve as vice president and secretary, respectively.

Boyds, which was founded in 1936 and has been in its current location for 17 years, is viewed as one of the top independent specialty stores in the Northeast. It has 48,000 square feet of selling space and is located on Chestnut Street in the heart of the city.

A turn-of-the-century building that at one time housed a funeral home and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the building itself is a work of art with its carved columns and sweeping staircases. Before the renovation, Gushner said, the store was “heavy, dark and dreary.”

Now, thanks to the work of New York architect Daniel Barteluce, Boyds sports new, lighter casework and enhanced lighting to showcase an upper-end selection of fine jewelry. Gushner explained: “We’ve partnered with a high-end jeweler named Dan Govberg, who has been my friend since I was five years old.” Govberg closed his Center City Philadelphia store and moved the operation inside Boyds, retaining a second location in the suburbs.“It’s a store-within-a-store,” Gushner said. The selection includes the “largest selection of high-end watches in Philadelphia” as well as other jewelry from such prestigious names as Chopard, Ebel, Bulgari, Tag Heuer, Hermès, David Yurman, Breitling, Raymond Weil, Patek Philippe, Chimento and Kwiat. “The big presence of watches is interesting to men and gender-neutral,” he said.

Nevertheless, the true reason for adding jewelry is to draw women into the store. “This sets the stage for us to become serious players in the high-end women’s business,” Gushner said. “We’ve carried women’s for 10 years, but it was really just a stepchild. We never invested in it properly and our hearts just weren’t in it.”

But Gushner and his partners knew that, to attract women, they had to make the first floor “appealing and inviting.” In the past, Gushner said, “women had to be brave and determined” to find the selection at the rear of the first floor. “Now, it’s an upscale complement to the store as a whole.”

Women’s wear currently accounts for 6 percent of Boyds’ volume, reported to be $40 million annually, and Gushner expects to triple the women’s percentage in the first year and double it again within three years. “No one offers the brands, service, valet parking and tailoring that we do,” he said. “We’re offering a true shopping destination for women.”

Top brands for spring include Armani, Michael Kors, Stella McCartney, D&G, Valentino, Marc Jacobs accessories, Bottega Veneta and Lambertson Truex. For fall, Gushner said the store will add St. John, Etro and Theory, among others, while installing a shoe department with Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, Manolo Blahnik and others. A cosmetics area is also in the cards.

To support the push, Boyds hired Michael Hammon, formerly with Stanley Korshak in Dallas, as its women’s buyer. There is also a separate manager of the women’s store as well as women’s-specific salespeople.

“We’re saying to Philadelphia that this is a serious women’s store,” he said.

Women as well as men will be drawn to the new Brasserie Perrier at Boyds, run by Georges Perrier, arguably the city’s most famous chef. The Frenchman has been in the city since 1967 and operates Le Bec-Fin as well as Brasserie Perrier and Georges’.By teaming up with Perrier and Govberg, “the message we’re trying to relay,” Gushner said, “is that this is a true destination under one roof. For us, it’s one plus one plus one equals four.”

But Gushner is not content to stop there. He’s already preparing for phase two of the revamping when he will “readdress the men’s floors” on the second, third and fourth floors. “We’re in the planning phase right now and it will be complete by spring ’06,” he said.

Looking ahead, Gushner said if all these changes are as successful as he expects, he will move to open a second and third Boyds within three years. The units would be within a 50-mile radius and in the store’s current trading area, “where our brand name has recognition,” he said. “I’m not bragging — it’s a fact that Boyds is an institution in Philadelphia.”

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