NEW YORK--Opening on a site with a rich retail history, Bradlees' first store in New York is expected to hit at least $45 million in annual sales and become the chain's highest volume unit. "This is a big step for us," said Barry Berman, chairman of the 136-unit regional discount chain. "It's our first store where the business will not rely only on people living in the immediate area." The store, which opened Sunday on East 14th Street between Broadway and University Place, opposite Union Square Park, is on the site of the former Mays Department Store. From 1923 until 1954, the spot was occupied by Ohrbach's, and before that it was Crystal Hall and one of the first nickleodeons in New York. Bradlees executives expect the store to draw a wide cross-section of customers. The area offers dense pedestrian traffic drawn from Union Square Park--which has undergone a refurbishing and whose thrice-weekly greenmarket is one of the city's finest--residents of Zeckendorf Towers, students from nearby New York University and workers in the Flatiron District. In addition, shoppers are drawn by other retailers in the area, especially some of the new superstores on Sixth Avenue. Bradlees sits atop the Union Square subway station--one of the busiest hubs in Manhattan--where the IRT and BMT lines converge. The six-level unit, with 143,000 square feet of selling space, is the chain's second largest store, next to the 147,000-square-foot Yonkers, N.Y., unit. However, it is Bradlees' most ambitious project to date and part of a drive to lift the company out of the doldrums by expanding into more urban locations, the kind discounters have generally avoided due to higher costs and space requirements. Bradlees' comparable-store sales were flat in the first half of this year. "Business is difficult," said Cecilia Clancy, vice president and general merchandise manager of soft lines. "It's a matter of gaining market share." Berman said the Union Square store should do "at least triple" the volume of a typical Bradlees unit, which generally has 80,000 to 90,000 square feet. Berman wouldn't specify a sales plan for Union Square, but the average Bradlees store does $15 million in annual volume. Even before the success of the Union Square store is measured, additional units in and around the city are being sought, according to Clancy. The company will open a store in Staten Island next year and is eyeing Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Westchester County. Clancy acknowledged that finding another site in Manhattan would be difficult because there are limited real estate opportunities that fill Bradlees' needs. At Union Square, Bradlees appeared to be an instant hit among the lunch crowd. One store clerk said Tuesday that business picks up around 11 a.m. and doesn't "calm down" until about 2:30 p.m. The store also is busy in the evening, beginning about 5 p.m. when workers begin heading home, the clerk said. It remains open until 9 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. On Sundays, it is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. To ease the noontime rush, three security guards outside the front door were directing shoppers coming into the store and three more on the inside pointed exiting customers through an adjacent door. Escalators also were filled to capacity as shoppers made their initial tours through the store. "The traffic has been phenomenal in the store," a clerk in casual sportswear on the second level said. Some shoppers said they were most impressed with the low price points. "I haven't toured the whole store yet, but from what I've seen, the prices are very competitive," one shopper said. She praised the store's variety and layout, which she called "very roomy," and said the quality of the merchandise, especially women's velour turtlenecks, was "excellent." "I guess I'll be coming here often," she said. Another shopper said the prices are "pretty reasonable." She cited the private label polyester-spandex tights at $10.99 as one example. The single complaint heard from shoppers was the delay at the checkouts. At lunch time Tuesday, shoppers on the lower level stood in lines of 10 to 15 people at five of the eight registers that were open. Areas of the store drawing the most traffic were health and beauty aids on the lower level, handbags and jewelry on the main floor and footwear on the second level. In designing the Union Square store, Bradlees sought a floor design that would keep the traffic flowing through the six levels. On the ground level, a 400-square-foot open space in the middle of the floor beneath a huge directory hanging from the ceiling eliminates traffic jams. Aiding the flow are aisles that are 10 feet wide, a few feet wider than typical units. On the first floor are cosmetics, sunglasses, jewelry, gloves, accessories, hosiery, smaller items and convenience products that fill basic needs. Registers at different merchandise areas speed transactions. "Women can browse during their lunch hour, pick up some hosiery or a pair of gloves and get in and out quickly," Clancy said. The floor also houses career separates and updated sportswear. An escalator ride to the upper levels is made pleasant by spacious windows offering views of Union Square Park. The facade is a dramatic contrast with the all-brick front of Mays. The second floor features casual sportswear, bodywear, activewear, sleepwear, juniors, petites, maternity wear, outerwear and a leased shoe area operated by the Shoe Corp. of America divison of J. Baker. The third level has small appliances, domestics, furniture and decorative home. Children's wear is on four. The store also features more of Bradlees' "better-priced" assortments, including career-oriented blazers for $50, dresses at $60, and coats at $130. Average Bradlees units offer 20 percent of their sportswear in career looks; at Union Square, 25 percent of the assortments are for working women. Blazers start at $20, dresses at $30, with 25 percent of the overall mix in private labels. There is also a larger assortment of trendier looks, including fringe jackets, leathers and suedes, fake furs, tunic tops and stretch jeans, and embellished blouses.
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