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Forever 21 Expansion Hits N.Y.’s 34th Street

NEW YORK — Mall staple Forever 21 wants to conquer the big city.<br><br>The company, which announced it will open a store next December in the former Bradlees on Union Square here (sharing the building with Whole Foods), has signed a lease for a...

NEW YORK — Mall staple Forever 21 wants to conquer the big city.

The company, which announced it will open a store next December in the former Bradlees on Union Square here (sharing the building with Whole Foods), has signed a lease for a 25,000-square-foot store at 50 West 34th Street. The second store is scheduled to open in March.

The 34th Street store will be directly opposite an H&M, which is one of the firm’s chief competitors. It joins Gap, Zara, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic and Express on the block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, which has increasingly come to resemble a regional mall.

The trendy Los Angeles-based junior chain is also planning locations for Chicago’s State Street and a site just south of Union Square in San Francisco. Forever 21’s 150 existing stores are in malls.

Larry Meyer, chief financial officer, said the move to the street was inevitable. “We think we have a winning formula for Manhattan,” he said, adding that Forever 21 hopes to provide an alternative to H&M, which offers a similar assortment of cheap chic. Forever 21 fashion tends to be more overtly sexy with lacy prom dresses and flirty tops.

To fill its new, larger-format stores — dubbed XXI Forever —the company is expanding categories including cosmetics, accessories, lingerie and shoes. Meyer said several XXI Forever stores are performing below company expectations, but in general the chain is consistently among the top mall performers with stores doing about $475 in sales per square foot.

Next year, Forever 21 plans to open between 25 and 30 stores and hit the $500 million sales mark. Its planned initial public offering is on hold for now, but the company isn’t giving up on going public. “The IPO depends on [the] market, and right now we don’t have the best of conditions,” said Meyer. “We’ll definitely take it up in the future.”