By  on September 10, 2008

Neiman Marcus has expanded its footprint in metropolitan Los Angeles with a store in the San Fernando Valley that features  a merchandise mix geared to the area's casual lifestyle.

The two-story, 120,000-square-foot unit opened Friday and anchors a new luxury wing of the 44-year-old Westfield Topanga shopping center that is intended to lure more affluent shoppers. It is part of a $330 million overhaul of the center that includes more than 100 specialty retail shops, as well as restaurants and new parking facilities.

"The area has been starved for luxury product and service for some time, and people didn't have a choice about where they went," said Bob Lugari, general manager of Neiman Marcus. "This store is not a second-class citizen to other Neiman Marcus stores by any means. This is about area pride. We have to be what the customer expects. Even in a challenging business environment, the luxury customer doesn¹t trade down,  they just alter their spending in terms of frequency."

The Dallas-based retail chain already has Southern California stores in Beverly Hills and in Newport Beach. Executives concede there will be some sharing of the Beverly Hills and Topanga-area clientele, but the new location is more geared to soccer moms than celebrities.

Neiman's is on the site of a former Nordstrom store, which was relocated within the shopping center.

California's retailers have been among those hardest hit by slowed consumer spending and the slumping economy. But Neiman's San Fernando Valley location is in an area where competition is heating up: A Nordstrom opened this week at Macerich's The Oaks mall, located about 20 miles away, which is also undergoing a major facelift. (See related story.) In addition, Caruso Affiliated's smaller shopping  developments in Calabasas, Westlake and Thousand Oaks are being updated.

Lugari said he expected the Westfield Topanga store to turn a  profit in its first year.

The unit contains shop-in-shops for Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Marni and other brands, and features a larger selection of dresses than its Beverly Hills counterpart, as well as a bigger sportswear department. The store also has a more casual dining concept than other Neiman's locations, called NM Café. Its art collection focuses on pieces from local artists.

A gala on Thursday night attended by Neiman Marcus president and chief executive officer Karen Katz celebrated the opening  and benefited local charities such as the ALS Association; Grossman Burn Foundation; the Projects Council of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the New West Symphony.

Among Neiman's neighbors is Jimmy Choo, which opened a 1,400-square-foot boutique last month, the brand's fifth in California. The store is on the first floor in the Neiman Marcus wing adjacent to other high-end brands including Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co.

"The Topanga store is an important part of our commitment to strengthen our presence in the most important destinations for luxury in California," said Joshua Schulman, Jimmy Choo ceo. "We know we have an important clientele in the affluent communities surrounding Westfield Topanga that is shopping with us today on Rodeo Drive and in fine specialty stores."

Lugari has a clear goal for Neiman's: "We hope to now become the destination of choice."

The Neiman Marcus Group operates 40 locations across the country, including six in California. The chain plans to boost its West Coast presence, opening in Bellevue, Wash., next year and in Walnut Creek, Calif., in 2011.

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