By  on March 8, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — Neiman Marcus today opens its 42nd full-line store and its third in the San Francisco Bay Area, located in the affluent East Bay suburb of Walnut Creek.

At 85,870 square feet, the two-level unit in Broadway Plaza is Neiman’s third smallest, described by the 107-year-old company as its latest “vision of modern luxury.”

Although diminutive in contrast to the retailer’s largest store — a 251,0000-square-foot flagship in San Francisco that’s just a 30-minute drive away — the gleaming, light-filled Walnut Creek Neiman’s is distinct.

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“The team has done an outstanding job of thinking creatively about how to enter this market,” said Jim Gold, president of specialty retail with The Neiman Marcus Group. For example, in merchandising, “we are trying to put a greater emphasis on the casual aspect of our assortment,” while still featuring designer and special occasion apparel.

He said the Walnut Creek store’s smaller size reflects its presence in a suburban market. “What we always try to do is strike the most efficient balance, given the size of the market,” Gold said, while noting “we are getting better and better at making space as efficient as possible.” The three smaller Neiman’s are in Palm Beach, Fla., which is 53,000 square feet, as well as Austin, Tex., and Charlotte, N.C., both 80,000 square feet.

The Walnut Creek store also represents an evolution in modernism for Neiman’s store design. The building, the exterior of which was designed by Niles Bolton Associates, is a white marble rectangular shape anchored by a corner covered in an earth-toned glass mosaic. Windows in the middle of the long facade add dimension that frame an exterior art installation by Ned Kahn, one of 30 Bay Area artists representing 133 of the 163 paintings, collages and sculptures in the store.

Kahn’s creation is a series of aluminum “fins” that hang vertically across the glass and individually move side to side in the wind while reflecting light. A smaller version of Kahn’s work covers a window above a side entrance opening into the cosmetics department from a pedestrian walkway in the open-air shopping center, where Nordstrom and Macy’s are the other anchor stores.

“The building is really seen as transparent from the inside out and the outside in,” said Ignaz Gorischek, vice president of store design, explaining how the store reflects the stark landscape of the East Bay with its bright and sunny weather. “At night, it is equally beautiful.”

Walnut Creek is one of several wealthy enclaves in the Bay Area that make the region a must-be location for many retailers. With its emphasis on high-tech employment, the region leads California in economic recovery, with a jobless rate ranging between 7.2 percent and 9.3 percent, in contrast to 11.1 percent statewide and 8.5 percent nationally.

In choosing Broadway Plaza to locate, Neiman’s will be drawing on the center’s primary customer base living within five miles in central Contra Costa County, where average household incomes are $144,000, according to 2011 Nielsen Claritas data. In contrast, the average household income for the entire San Francisco region is $100,093. The shopping center’s outlying markets extend into Napa, Marin, Solano and Alameda counties, where there are several regional shopping centers, such as Sunvalley Mall in Concord, The Shops at Blackhawk and Stoneridge Mall in Dublin.

“Our trade area is an affluent trade area. They have a taste for luxury,” said Chris Facas, senior vice president of property management with Macerich, which owns and manages Broadway Plaza.

While the center’s customers shop elsewhere — for example, in San Francisco’s Union Square, with the region’s largest concentration of luxury fashion retail — the center is becoming increasingly competitive with the addition of Neiman Marcus, Facas said. New tenants at the center also include Lacoste, Juicy Couture and Burberry.

Nordstrom last year completed a storewide renovation and 21,000-square-foot expansion to increase its footprint to 214,000 square feet that bolstered its luxury offerings. Among the changes are larger Gucci, Marni and Lanvin departments, a new viaC section featuring emerging designer labels, and an expanded cosmetics department, according to Nordstrom. The Seattle-based fashion retailer has seven stores in the Bay Area.

As for the new Neiman Marcus taking customers away from either of the retailer’s two Bay Area locations, Gold said that is not a concern since each store has its own attributes and merchandising emphasis.

For example, some new aspects at the Walnut Creek store are: an expanded self-serve cosmetics department, a section juxtaposing designer and precious jewelry, merchandising contemporary sportswear in lifestyle displays emphasizing modernity, a large men’s footwear salon, a space for customers to reserve for parties and men’s and women’s lounges that double as personal-shopper spaces.

“There are many things we think will be very fresh with the store,” Gold said. “It’s timeless. It’s modern. It’s light, airy. It has a feeling of accessibility to it.”

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