By  on October 11, 2007

NEW YORK — National Jean Co. is making its first foray into the big city.

The denim-based retail chain will celebrate the opening of a store on New York's Upper East Side tonight, its first in the heart of a major city.

"This is our first metropolitan effort and it's definitely been good so far," said Helen Kim, National Jean Co.'s director of operations, referring to a soft opening in the last week or so.

The 15-year-old chain got its start in 1992 with a store in Albertson, N.Y., on Long Island. Since then, the company has steadily expanded to suburban areas. Today, it has 12 stores throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, with a 13th store slated to open in West Hartford, Conn., in the next month.

A move into Manhattan and a more urban environment was a natural progression in National Jean's development, according to Kim.

"We've always wanted to do a store in the city," said Kim. "It was more about waiting for the right location."

But the right location wasn't necessarily the most obvious. Opening a store on the Upper East Side rather than in one of the city's more flashy or trendy shopping districts was a calculated move designed to build on the firm's heritage. Kim noted many of the customers who frequented the chain's Long Island stores have grown up and moved into the city and have tended to end up on Manhattan's East Side.

"They migrated here so what we do translates really easily," said Kim.

And just like those transplants, the move from the suburbs has forced the company to deal with one of New York's perennial problems — lack of space. Other retail locations have had the benefit of having large footprints. For instance, the chain's main Long Island location is 10,000 square feet. The new store has just 2,700 square feet. As a result, the assortment has been significantly narrowed in an effort to put the focus on quality rather than quantity.

"For this location, we definitely wanted to keep it as clean and as edited as possible," said Kim. "It's a completely different animal and you want it to be easy to shop."Kim said that with a suburban store the company might be willing to buy eight different colors or washes of the same style of jean. With the city store, buyers will edit that down to just two or three selections. Still, the store will carry up to 3,000 pairs of jeans from brands like Brown Label, Hudson, Paper Denim & Cloth and Seven For All Mankind.

The store's rectangular shape also presented challenges. Kim said the unit's design was intended to draw shoppers through to the back. The entrance will be home to contemporary apparel and tops, the middle section will house T-shirts and sweatshirts and the "denim library" will be located in the back.

"Each area brings a little something different to the mix," said Kim.

The store will only carry women's apparel and Kim said the firm will continue to look at opening more units in New York and other cities. However, the company isn't setting specific expansion targets.

"It's about getting the formula right before moving on," said Kim.

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