In an effort to survive and even thrive, specialty stores are becoming more, well, special. At a time when Saks Fifth Avenue is reasserting its luxury prowess and Neiman Marcus is posting strong financial results, the independents are scrambling to do more of what they do best. That includes providing superior service, discovering and introducing talented designers and unique merchandise, and forging relationships with designers to create exclusive products for their stores. Some specialty retailers are trying to turn their locations into sought-after destinations with amenities such as restaurants and bars. The all-important in-store boutique brings clout to a specialty store, sending the message that a designer believes strongly in the future of the retailer.

  1. FRED SEGAL/RON HERMAN, LOS ANGELES AND SANTA MONICA, CALIF.
    $75 million

    Fred Segal in 1968 opened a 200-square-foot jeans store on Melrose Avenue, eventually expanding his collection of independently-owned shops along the entire block. A second store opened in Santa Monica in 1985. Ron Herman, who commands the largest space in the Melrose Avenue location, sells young designers, his own RH Vintage collection, jewelry and CDs. Herman has established a name for himself with freestanding stores in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Costa Mesa and recently, Malibu, Calif., where he caters to a casual crowd with Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs and Missoni. Herman, who reportedly takes in $40 million in the five locations, is developing a Web site and selling his own collections in Asia and Europe.

  2. MITCHELLS OF WESTPORT, CONN., AND RICHARDS IN GREENWICH, CONN.
    $65 million

    Last year, the 28,000-square-foot Mitchells in Westport, Conn., underwent a renovation that reallocated more space to women’s and turned back office space into men’s retail. Both Mitchells and Richards in Greenwich, Conn., added Manolo Blahnik and Jil Sander to the fashion roster this year and both stores have Hermès boutiques. The two family owned units carry many of the same resources but their customers rarely overlap. Tod’s and Prada handbag shops are located at Mitchells. The Westport store has been developing a jewelry business with designers such as Rene Lewis, David Yurman and Michael Beaudry. The company hopes to replicate the success of jewelry at Richards.

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