By  on September 26, 2005

NEW YORK — Malls don't do it for Nicole Miller's Bud Konheim, so he's hitting the streets.

Konheim, the firm's president and chief executive officer, has decided Nicole Miller can better serve its customers with stores in downtown street locations.

"I never wanted to be in malls in the first place," he said. "Malls give me hives. They're completely devoid of personality."

There are 30 Nicole Miller stores worldwide. In the U.S., seven of the 17 units are in malls. The company produces the Nicole Miller Signature premium line, the core Nicole Miller Collection and the contemporary Miller Girl lines. There is also a collection of housewares sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and the nicole by Nicole Miller collection at J.C. Penney, which is expected to generate $100 million in sales in its first year.

While many retailers and shoppers bemoan the artificial atmosphere of malls, shopping centers are still considered a critical expansion vehicle for everything from value brands to high-end designer collections.

But Konheim, never one to mince words, said, "The ambience of malls has changed. There are lots of nonshoppers and gangs and danger in the parking lots. They're on the verge of being taken over by teenagers."

Konheim said Nicole Miller customers are reluctant to visit malls after dark, but the company is still obligated to pay rent until closing time at 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. Finding good sales help is also a challenge, he said.

The firm previously shut stores at Northbrook Court Shopping Center in Northbrook, Ill., Fashion Square Mall in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Pacific Place in Seattle.

"We're looking at the other mall stores," Konheim said. "Wherever malls don't make sense we're closing them."

There are exceptions, including The Mall at Short Hills in Short Hills, N.J., and Tyson's Galleria in McLean, Va. "Short Hills is the only place to be in New Jersey," Konheim said. "Similarly, Tyson's is the only game in town in McLean."

The greater emphasis on street locations, includes the redesign of the Nicole Miller flagship at 780 Madison Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets, which will serve as a prototype for future units. The store, which features Miller's Signature collection, opened in 1986 and has been renovated. It has an elegant, slightly bohemian look with off-white walls, dark matte wood floors, a honeycomb iron grate on the wall and ceiling, avocado dressing rooms and a Fifties orange light fixture that came by way of the kitchen table."We're using this store to raise the level of our brand," Konheim said. "We're weeding out licensees that can't make merchandise that's worthy of this store."

The Madison Avenue store does sales of $2,000 a square foot, according to sources, while the Nicole Miller Signature collection is anticipated to have sales of $67 million.

On Saturday, Nicole Miller opened a 2,500-square-foot store at 77 Greene Street in the heart of SoHo. Konheim said a 700-square-foot space within the store is devoted to the bridal business. The unit is expected to do $2 million in its first year.

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