By  on August 10, 2007

Fortunoff is moving off Fifth Avenue and relocating to 3 West 57th Street, right next to Bergdorf Goodman, WWD has learned.

The move is a big step for the 85-year-old Fortunoff to modernize its image, elevate productivity and set the look and tone for an expansion that seems overdue. Fortunoff's reputation is much larger than its footprint, which is limited to the Tristate area.

"This will be our vision of what jewelry stores should be like," said Arnie Orlick, the retailer's chief executive officer. "Our new store will be filled with visual grandeur and will be much more contemporary than the very traditional environments we have lived with."

Fortunoff on 57th Street is scheduled to open in the first week of November and will encompass three levels and 12,600 square feet. Fine jewelry and watches will be on the first floor; a Baby Fortunoff boutique, silver jewelry, men's jewelry and interactive wedding and gift registries for tabletop and home furnishings will be on the second, and downstairs, there will be ''a diamond world'' for diamond engagement rings, wedding bands and other expensive jewelry, with rooms for private viewings.

The store is being designed by Barteluce Architects & Assoc., which has created environments for such luxury retailers as Gucci, Cartier and Fendi. Recycled woods accented with recycled aluminum, warm earth tones and metallics, and low-energy LED lighting will be used to create an environmentally friendly space. "Using the sparkle and facets of a gemstone as the genesis of the design concept, we created a merchandising panorama that evokes the thrill and mystery of the mining experience," Dan Barteluce, founder and principal of the firm bearing his name, said in a statement. "Brightly lit jewelry showcases form dense, horizontal light bands juxtaposed against an organic background interspersed with blades of glass which refract light."

The site previously served as temporary quarters for Chanel, Coach and Bulgari stores and, earlier, a Phillips auction gallery.

Fortunoff's current four-level, 15,000-square-foot Manhattan site, at 681 Fifth Avenue by 54th Street, opened in 1979. From early November 2007 through January 2008, Fortunoff will simultaneously operate two Manhattan locations, though management feels the two Fortunoffs within four blocks won't cannibalize sales from each other. "It's the time of the year where there's enough volume to have a spectacular Christmas in both stores," Orlick said. "In no way, shape or form will we take merchandise out of Fifth Avenue. We will run it as if the other store doesn't exist."Orlick characterized the existing four-level store as "unusually successful." However, "It's become quite tired and has not been as productive as we'd like. It's been very challenging to get people up to the higher levels."

The $500 million Fortunoff chain was sold by the Fortunoff and Mayrock families in 2004 to Trimaran Capital Partners and the K Group, two private equity firms. The families retain a 25 percent stake and some family members are still involved in the business. Louis Fortunoff and Isidore Mayrock are on the board; Esther Fortunoff runs jewelry with her sister Ruth, and David Fortunoff handles the technology end.

The jewelry and home chain has enough of a national reputation to expand. But the late Alan Fortunoff, son of the founders Max and Clara Fortunoff, had a philosophy of wanting to have stores located within a few hours' drive so it would be easier to keep tabs on the branches. Fortunoff operates a total of 20 stores, including four large jewelry and home furnishings units in Westbury and White Plains, N.Y., and Wayne and Woodbridge, N.J.; two specialized jewelry and gift stores on Fifth Avenue and in Paramus, N.J., and 14 backyard-furniture stores in the metropolitan area.

The new owners are fueling the expansion, and there's been speculation about a public offering down the road. "The goal is to strategically — and with good sense — start expanding," Orlick said, principally 10,000- to 12,600-square-foot jewelry shops or outdoor furniture stores in the 15,000-square-foot range. Fortunoff is examining potential locations in the Tristate area as well as Pennsylvania and states further south, he said. "A jewelry store is not that expensive and can get the payback very quickly," Orlick said. Fortunoff's outdoor furniture stores, he added, require relatively little capital to open and generate sizeable volumes.

Fortunoff stores can be much larger, such as the full-line 180,000-square-foot unit in White Plains, which cost $25 million to $30 million to create, Orlick noted. Fortunoff's largest unit is the 200,000-square-foot full-line jewelry and home store in Westbury, on Long Island.

The new Manhattan site could raise the retailer's visibility, considering the tony brands within eyeshot on all four corners of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street — Bergdorf Goodman, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. However, luxury brands believe that Fifth and Madison Avenues, and 57th Street east of Fifth Avenue, best serve their branding objectives, and there is a perception that the retail landscape turns down-market west of Fifth.Orlick dismissed such concerns, stating, "I was on 57th Street this morning and I stood in front of our store to look at the dynamics. I didn't see much change crossing Fifth. The traffic was unbelievable — exactly the customer we want." Orlick said the new Fortunoff is expected to achieve 20 percent higher productivity than the Fifth Avenue store, though he declined to specify volume objectives.

Fortunoff is known for its value, service, bridal and gift registries, and sells fine jewelry and fine watches, outdoor furniture, tabletop, housewares and home textiles. The chain tends to be promotional in its home business, but not with jewelry, which represents about 33 percent of the volume.

In other plans, Fortunoff will relaunch its Web site on Jan. 15 so it's easier, faster and more fun to shop, and will introduce new blue packaging, including linen-finished jewelry boxes, redesigned shopping bags and gift wrap in tandem with the opening. A new chief marketing officer, Bernard Sensale, formerly with Zale Corp., was hired last month. With its huge and dated silver lettering, Fortunoff has been a weighty presence on Fifth Avenue. But on 57th, "We'll have a new Fortunoff's sign which will be unique," Orlick said.

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