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End of a Long Affair: Kleinfeld Leaving Brooklyn

Kleinfeld's, the 62-year-old Brooklyn-based bridal gown institution, is opening a store in Manhattan in July and kissing Kings County goodbye.

NEW YORK — For thousands of brides-to-be, the pilgrimage to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to shop for a wedding gown at Kleinfeld is a rite of passage. But one thing about the ritual is about to change: Come July, there will be no need to trek to the outer borough.

That’s when the company plans to open a 35,000-square-foot flagship at 110 West 20th Street near Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. At that time, the Brooklyn store, which is more than 60 years old, will close.

The new store is expected to do $35 million in sales in its first year. The Brooklyn store, by contrast, has annual sales of between $20 million and $24 million.

While the Brooklyn store consists of a series of brownstones cobbled together over the years, the flagship was designed by Taylor & Stonehill from the ground up. Kleinfeld’s owners chose a hotel architect with clients such as the Plaza Hotel, Millennium Hilton and Sheraton New York to design the space. “Our business isn’t really retail, it’s hospitality,” said Ronnie Rothstein, Kleinfeld co-owner and chief executive officer. The new store will be elegant and luxurious, with a sense of theater, to heighten the experience of buying a wedding dress, he added.

Kleinfeld, which claims to have the largest selection of gowns in the world, is the strongest bridal player in the New York metropolitan area. Its move from Brooklyn to Manhattan is bound to send tremors through the bridal industry. A question raised by the move is whether Kleinfeld will demand exclusives of designers now selling to Barneys New York or Saks Fifth Avenue.

“There will be a little tornado around for a while until the dust settles,” said bridal designer Richard Glasgow. “When something of this magnitude happens, there’s upheaval in the whole bridal industry.”

Glasgow said Kleinfeld will probably have the last word in most cases. “Kleinfeld has a lot of clout,” he explained. “But there are many, many bridal designers now. Stores will adjust and pick up merchandise from new designers.”

While Barneys can sell edgier designers, Kleinfeld’s Manhattan location could pose a challenge to Saks. “In a large specialty store like Saks, bridal is always a stepchild,” Glasgow said. “Stores do it as an accommodation for the customer. At Kleinfeld, it’s their business.”

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Kleinfeld prides itself on its service. Sales associates have knowledge of 1,200 samples by 75 designers. Unlike most bridal retailers, the store merchandises dresses by body type rather than by label.

Amsale Aberra, a bridal designer with a boutique on Madison Avenue, said she’ll continue selling to Kleinfeld once it opens in Manhattan. “Personally, the move is not going to affect our relationship with Kleinfeld in any way,” she said. “We’ve been closely working with Kleinfeld, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman.”

Rothstein and co-owner Mara Urshel said they looked for space in Brooklyn for a year and a half, checking out buildings from Bensonhurst to DUMBO with 10,000 square feet or more, but nothing worked.

“We had outgrown the Brooklyn space,” Rothstein said of the current 20,000-square-foot store. “When we bought this business in 1999 we inherited seven buildings that were put together over 64 years, although it’s served the Kleinfeld family and us well. It feels like a chopped-up space.”

The company dipped its toe into Manhattan waters in February when it opened the Kleinfeld Bridesmaids’ Loft, a 4,000-square-foot space in the Garment District, at 270 West 38th Street. Rothstein and Urshel said the Bridemaids’ Loft has already surpassed expectations for customer appointments and sales. It should generate $3 million to $4 million in sales for its first year.

The closing of Kleinfeld at 8202 Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn is bound to be a blow to the neighborhood. Rothstein was careful to say that clients’ lifestyles have changed, not the Bay Ridge neighborhood. “Girls are working harder,” he said. “Convenience becomes important. There’s time poverty. It’s become geographically inconvenient to get to Brooklyn.”

Kleinfeld was founded by Hedda Kleinfeld Schacter and Jack Schacter in 1941. After an exceptionally long run, the couple sold the store to Michel Zelnik and a group venture capitalists in 1990. Zelnik, the former ceo of Bidermann Industries U.S.A., expanded too quickly, opening leased departments at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kleinfeld in 1996 barely averted bankruptcy. Gordon Bros. Capital bought the business from Zelnik the following year. Rothstein, Urshel and the actor Wayne Rogers stepped in in 1999.

Rothstein said Kleinfeld’s employees are the reason for its success. The staff of 185 are mostly Brooklyn- and Staten Island-based. To make its move a little easier to digest, the company is hiring private buses to convey the staff to work and back, and is giving everyone a raise.

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