By  on August 3, 2009

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NEW YORK —
J.C. Penney’s plans to celebrate the Friday opening of its Manhattan flagship in Greeley Square Park were scuttled when the weather had ideas of its own. Quickly, the event was moved from the park to the lobby of Manhattan Mall, where the store is located.


The change of venue allowed Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make a grand entrance. Riding down an escalator with Kimora Lee Simmons by his side, the 5-foot, 6-inch mayor and 6-foot-tall designer looked like an odd couple. In fact, Bloomberg jokingly sounded like a fish out of fashionable waters when he said, “I was the 2008 Us Weekly nominee for the most stylish man of the year. Unfortunately, I was not asked to model today. I guess I didn’t meet the age requirement.”

The modeling was left to the pros — and children — whose turns on a makeshift runway were greeted with oohs and aahs by the crowd of customers.

Penney’s chairman and chief executive officer Myron E. “Mike” Ullman 3rd said the company has elevated its fashion quotient in recent years. “We’re definitely not your mother’s J.C. Penney,” he said of the flagship on Broadway between 32nd and 33rd streets. “We’ve come to compete vigorously for your business. Customers are surprised by our style.”

This is not exactly Penney’s first foray into the city. The retailer, which is 107 years old, was headquartered in Manhattan for 75 of those years.

Ullman made a not-so-thinly veiled reference to Macy’s, where he was chairman and ceo from 1992 to 1995. “Having worked across the street for a number of years, I have some special insights. This is a great shopping district. I think the competition will help the area.” He even asked his rival Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo of Macy’s Inc., to visit the new Penney’s flagship. “I saw Terry last week and told him that my board of directors comes to New York in September. He was very gracious” and accepted, Ullman said. “We already compete [with Macy’s] in 700 places. They’re great merchants.”

“Our city has unparalleled shopping,” Bloomberg said. “This store will provide an opportunity to our economy. We’re getting a vote of confidence when we need it the most.”

After the ceremony, Bloomberg and Simmons led kids from the Children’s Aid Society — the retailer donated $150,000 to support after-school initiatives in the city — on a back-to-school shopping spree. As Simmons and her staff helped children pick out outfits, Ullman said designing the 150,000-square-foot store on the mall’s two lower levels “was challenging. We’re focused on making it easy for the customer” with technology.

Charlotte Ronson, who designs the I [Heart] Charlotte line for Penney’s, said her collection adds a different dimension to the store. “It fills a void they didn’t necessarily have for a customer. This store is a lot newer and updated. It has the vibe. You can kind of do anything with J.C. Penney. I’m doing buy-now, wear-now, which is kind of what the world is about.”

“I took the red-eye from L.A.,” said Michele Bohbot, whose Bisou Bisou line is sold exclusively at Penney’s. “We [the store] are down underground. We have to explode. We have to create a lot of buzz. We’ve been telling [Penney’s] about opening stores in major cities for eight years. Nothing has been done because the rents were too high. Now, they will be so successful, they’ll open in cities.”

“This place is going to kick butt,” predicted Marty Staff, ceo of JA Apparel Corp., which produces the Joe line of men’s wear sold exclusively at Penney’s. Staff said the Joe collection has been strong. “Everything is selling. There’s a wool sweater that is down to just two pieces.

“New York so needs a store like this,” Staff added.

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