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Tucked away in a building on 60th Street that connects with the Bloomingdale’s flagship across the street via an old enclosed overpass are the offices housing the store’s creative services.
There’s some sense of detachment from the flagship, but it’s where Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services, develops store prototypes and renovation schemes. In reinventing the square footage, the refined, soft-spoken Hruska has been instrumental in executing the company’s “all-store mentality,” bringing more of the 59th Street character and sophistication to the branches without breaking the budget.
“There was always more effort centered on our New York flagship and a few stores in the country — Chicago, Boca Raton, White Plains, Bergen County, Short Hills — these were all important stores,” said Hruska.
When he joined Bloomingdale’s 19 years ago, “Federated just emerged from bankruptcy and there was a sense of great opportunity here, that we were going to grow significantly. If that was to happen we had to understand how to manage from a different perspective, and allow for more autonomy for each store utilizing the best practices.”
He wasn’t particularly impressed with the Bloomingdale’s fleet, seeing stores that were “compartmentalized with little pockets of space, boutique-y, with cubbies, dead-end spaces, and controlled, very dark, theatrical lighting.…The stores were built when customers had more time to shop.”
His expertise was in display and visual merchandising, after years working at The Broadway, Goldwater’s, Bullocks and Robinson’s (where he worked for Michael Gould) and was what Bloomingdale’s needed. “I have always been a designer of space. Since I was a little kid, it’s been my passion. I used to draw rooms and houses and spaces. The fact that I was able to land a job that satisfied my passion is something I am very grateful for.”
A year after arriving, Bloomingdale’s famous head of store design, Barbara D’Arcy, retired and Hruska was tapped to fill the post. His first big project would be to create a store in Skokie, Ill., in a new format. Hruska had to two years to pull it together, far more time than he would ever get now on a store. “We built an open store compared to these closed-in stores. That was the big, big change. The construction was revolutionary. I wanted to build a store that customers would react to differently. Fixtures, display systems and point-of-sale equipment were designed to be flexible and movable, so departments could be enlarged or contracted as business trends dictated. Open-sell environments in fashion accessories and jewelry were created, instead of traditional showcase islands. Aisles were wider, and “foot candle levels,” a measure of the intensity of light falling on surfaces, were greater. There would also be huge, tall windows for lots of natural lighting, and high ceilings, “as high as I could go,” Hruska said.
Skokie became the prototype, and in 1995 was named “store of the year” by the National Association of Display Industries Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t perfect. “It was a cool store, very innovative, but not very brand enhancing. It could be anybody’s store,” Hruska acknowledged, and it wasn’t long before other retailers copied it.
In 2002, Hruska’s evolving vision took root in Orlando, where he created a store exhibiting the signature Bloomingdale’s touches — big black-and-white checkerboard floors, shop concepts, and a black “eyelid” framing shops and lending a sense of continuity under a Bloomingdale’s umbrella. Lighting techniques used in Skokie were emulated, though the Orlando footprint was linear, compared to Skokie’s curvilinear approach.
The vision continued to evolve when Hruska created the 79,000-square-foot SoHo store, which opened in 2004. “From a store design perspective, it set this new precedent,” he said. “There would be long sight lines, but with the merchandise never more than 15 to 18 feet from you. You walk down a straight aisle but when you look left or right, the wall presentation is only 15 feet away. Before, the wall would be 30 feet away from the aisle, like six racks back. In SoHo, there are only one or two racks before the wall. Your eye can only really register 25 feet with any clarity. If you looked across these big broad stores, you see a lot of stuff but you don’t really see anything. That principle was really clearly established in SoHo. People would ask, ‘why is the merchandise so strong here?’ It was because of that. But you also wanted that long vista [down the aisle] so you didn’t feel lost. That was completely different from Skokie.”
The San Francisco store, opened in 2006, kept the evolution going. “We went from our smallest store to our biggest branch,” at 335,000 square feet. “We didn’t take the look from SoHo. We took the philosophy of merchandising. Nothing is more than 15 feet from you in an aisle.”
Hruska also evolved the color palette, brought in mannequins on lit platforms for added drama, and with the Santa Monica store, opened in 2010, focused on referencing the community with furnishings and construction materials. “We still have the black-and-white checkerboard floor,” that recalls the 59th Street flagship’s Bway, but it’s stained into cement, rather than being black-and-white stone. The Glendale, Calif., store, set for a fall 2013 opening, will have “a small store philosophy” and community references, too.
The Dubai store, opened in 2010, “is a big scale store like San Francisco, with all of the bells and whistles. There are subtle touches that reference it’s in the United Emirates. For instance, there’s an Arabic patterned ceiling over the Bway.”
Hruska also designed and implemented the recent overhaul of the main floor cosmetics department at the flagship. He led the design direction for Bloomingdale’s Dubai, and he orchestrated renovations for the Sherman Oaks, Calif., and Roosevelt Field, N.Y., stores, dramatically changing the main floors to closely align with Bloomingdale’s iconic black-and-white branding.
For the future, Hruska, whose responsibilities extend to direct mail, social media, outdoor advertising and events, says the tendency will be to create more edited, smaller stores. “That’s why I think technology in the future is the way to go because we can provide more assortments in a smaller footprint and have an enhanced shopping experience — a lot of choice, less inventory. There are not a lot of communities left that would support a big Bloomingdale’s store. There are quite a few where we could put a small one in.”