By  on December 20, 1994

DALLAS -- Neiman Marcus is taking its holiday merchandise via rail to cities where the chain doesn't have stores, but where some of its best customers live.

Neiman's has transformed the American Orient Express luxury train into a Christmas store on tracks and has commissioned it to travel from San Antonio to five Southern and Midwestern cities. It embarked midnight Dec. 12 and made its first stop in New Orleans. The next stops are Memphis; Kansas City, Mo., and Longview and Austin, Texas, before the tour finishes Wednesday with a day of selling at its home base in San Antonio.

"These are cities that do not have Neiman Marcus stores, but there are many customers there who we know," said Burton Tansky, Neiman's chairman and chief executive officer.

The cities were chosen because they each have many Neiman's credit customers and members of InCircle, the store's frequent-shopper program offering buying incentives.

The chain notified by mail 5,000 households in each city about the journey.

Tansky would not project sales for the venture, a first for Neiman's. Commissioning the train for 10 days cost more than $200,000, according to the American Orient Express.

Five of the train's 11 cars are stocked with merchandise, including women's apparel and accessories, furs and intimate apparel, men's and children's wear, tabletop, gifts, gourmet foods and toys. The remaining six cars contain overnight accommodations for Neiman's 50 employees, and extra merchandise.

Business hours on the train generally run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Neiman's has planned private evening parties for its best customers in some cities. The American Orient Express is a restored luxury railroad with cars dating from 1948 to 1958. Launched earlier this year, it has made three trips between San Antonio and Branson, Mo.

"It's an absolutely beautiful train and a thrill to see it," Tansky said. "It's upscale, it's very legitimate and it's all regular price."

"We were able to get our resources to send us extra goods, so we didn't strip our stores," noted Janet Gurwitch, executive vice president. "We think it will be an exciting shopping experience since the train is so beautiful."

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