By  on May 9, 2008

CHICAGO — Despite tightened consumer spending, Intermix has launched its third Chicago store in about a year.

The 2,300-square-foot space opened last week on North Damen Avenue in the evolving Bucktown neighborhood.

The move comes after New York-based Intermix opened an East Hampton, N.Y., location last month and, on Friday, a unit in Orlando, Fla., was unveiled. Another Intermix boutique is to open this Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

"We're responding more to the customer than the economy," said chief executive officer Khajak Keledjian, conceding that the troubled U.S. economy has affected business. "It's not as easy as it was. We have to be more cautious."

But macroeconomic challenges don't appear to be holding back Intermix's expansion. By the end of this month, the retailer will have 24 stores, with plans to open four more by yearend and four to eight stores next year, Keledjian said, although he did not disclose a more specific time frame or locations.

The tough economy may not be all bad for Intermix, he said, noting that it creates a survival-of-the-fittest environment from which the retailer may emerge stronger. "That's when the good players come in and move forward," he said. "There's too much product out there now."

Keledjian said the company is in growing mode, and Intermix has aggressively pursued customers.

In Chicago, Keledjian admitted that he took a risk last spring by opening two stores almost simultaneously, one on Rush Street in the Gold Coast neighborhood and another along Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park. "People told us it's going to be more conservative," Keledjian said of Chicago. "We've been taken by surprise. We've had a great response."

Others warned him to tone down the color and stock more black for the Midwest market, advice that Keledjian did heed. "It's been the complete opposite," he said, noting that fashion with color is performing well. "I try to stick to what we do best."

However, challenges arose in selling swimwear and loungewear locally, he said. Keledjian also noticed the nuances between the two Chicago neighborhoods. The 4,000-square-foot Rush Street store attracts tourists and clients looking for brands — Intermix carries more than 200 — such as Diane von Furstenberg, Kenneth Jay Lane, Stella McCartney, Chloé and Jay Godfrey.The Armitage Avenue store in Lincoln Park, which Keledjian compared with Intermix locations in Manhattan's West Village and on Columbus Avenue, is more laid-back and often caters to mothers pushing strollers shopping for day looks rather than night-out ensembles.

Keledjian predicted the Bucktown store on North Damen Avenue will fall somewhere in between, with customers seeking more unusual pieces such as a pair of turquoise Chloé sandals with a cone-shaped heel for $625.

"We want to take advantage of being in this young, hip neighborhood," said Sari Sloane, vice president of fashion merchandising at Intermix.

The North Damen Avenue store stocks $75 white skinny studded jeans by Blank and $165 silk star-print tops by Alisha Levine, as well as a $1,050 black banded dress by Hervé Léger.

The Intermix opening in Bucktown comes as the street is undergoing a rapid transformation. At this time last year, Damen Avenue was the exclusive home to hip local specialty stores. And then last year, BCBG, Nanette Lepore and Cynthia Rowley opened outposts. This year, Marc by Marc Jacobs launched on Damen Avenue and a flurry of retailers is set to unveil stores this spring and summer, including Bebe, Club Monaco, Joe's Jeans, Lululemon, LeSportsac and Jill Stuart.

"Right now in Chicago there is a lot happening," Keledjian said. "[Chicagoans] are hungry for something like this."

For Intermix overall, store sizes average 2,500 to 4,000 square feet with some carrying more than 300 vendors, including J Brand, Hervé Léger, Nina Ricci, Missoni, Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen. Sales average $2,000 a square foot, Keledjian said.

Intermix, meanwhile, expects to keep looking into both new and existing markets, Chicago and New York included. "I don't think we'll remain at three [stores]," Keledjian said about the Windy City. And although Intermix operates five stores in Manhattan, "I think there's still more room," he said. "You can never say never."

In addition to domestic growth, Intermix also plans to extend its online reach, taking its Web site international by the end of September to test demand overseas.

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