NEW YORK — Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive, is in the mood to gloat.

For the third year in a row, Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship has been named the most popular department store in the city by Zagat Survey. “It speaks volumes about our store,” said a pleased Gould last week after the 2006 survey results were released.

“This is not three people sitting around at a table talking about shopping. It’s 7,000 to 8,000 people who were surveyed. They’re not saying Bloomingdale’s is the most expensive or that it has the best of everything. They’re just saying it’s their favorite place.

“People see Bloomingdale’s as different than Saks, Bergdorf’s and Barneys,” he continued. “They are great brands and terrific stores. But they recognize Bloomingdale’s because they see a different DNA, a different energy level, a different beat and a much broader range of merchandise. Lots of [retailers] can flourish in Manhattan because they have different perspectives on life, but the uniqueness of Bloomingdale’s is very clear. That’s what’s behind our success.”

In popularity among department stores, Bloomingdale’s was followed in order by Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York.

According to Zagat, 7,710 people rated their experiences at 2,145 stores. The survey was conducted online and included mostly New Yorkers. Others awarded best in their class included Zabar’s, for the most popular independent store; Century 21, the most popular discounter; Bed Bath &Beyond, for the most popular chain; Harry Winston for being tops in quality; Buccellati for the best in home/garden; Ghurka, for top quality in lifestyle, and Babeland, a sex toy shop, for service.

Gould also liked the survey’s “whole debunking that people don’t like to shop. More than two-thirds [of those surveyed] said ‘We enjoy shopping,’ and the vast majority said they are spending more time shopping and they find it an enjoyable thing to do. It isn’t like it’s a chore. That’s a very, very important thing to take away.”

Gould said part of Bloomingdale’s continued popularity stems from the recent renovations on the 59th Street flagship over the past few years, with about 30 percent of the store overhauled, and from efforts to improve service and remove the clutter that once congested the aisles.

This story first appeared in the March 28, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

He also cited the 2004 unveiling of a new second level showcasing contemporary offerings, as well as last year’s opening of the new third floor, which presents “a whole new concept of melding bridge and designer, and a sense of openness,” Gould said.

He stressed that things are constantly changing in the store, adding to the buzz and sense of theatrics, and that the flagship will get a big lift later this year after the fourth-floor shoe department is renovated so that it’s “pure designer on four.” The bridge footwear resources on the floor will be relocated to the second floor, for a combined bridge and better-priced presentation.

In another major improvement slated for this year, the intimate apparel department will be “reconceptualized,” Gould said.

Ironically, while Bloomingdale’s won for department store popularity, the store’s review inside the Zagat Survey 2006 New York City Shopping guide presented a mixed picture. The blurbs, according to Zagat Survey founders Tim and Nina Zagat, are synopses of the respondents’ opinions, including some of their comments in quotes.

Bloomingdale’s was respectfully called “a Manhattan institution” where you can find “everything you need from moderately priced merchandise to chic couture, except knowledgeable sales help.”

It was also called a “bridal shower mecca for housewares” and cited for offering clothing to satisfy all ages, but criticized for teeming with tourists and for its “discombobulated state” with crowded aisles.

Gould responded to the review by stating, “I thought it really didn’t take into account some of the changes we’ve made over the past three years. I find the comment about crowded aisles interesting, in the sense that for the last two years we have not merchandised in our aisles. We also reduced signing by 85 percent. I think any resource today would not say it’s crowded. There is nothing in the aisles …

“The popularity has to do with the dramatic changes at Bloomingdale’s.”

Gould also addressed the criticism of his sales help, saying, “We have added more sales help and ratcheted up the quality of the training.”

“I can be very critical of myself, and I’m the most critical. I listen to my vendors and my customers. But how can Bloomingdale’s be the favorite [department store] if it’s discombobulated and we don’t have sales help?”

Gould concluded that between the survey and the guide’s review, “I look at the bright side. Bloomingdale’s is a true icon of New York, and I think we have a never-ending battle to upgrade the service and make the environment to be ever more comfortable. We have done a lot of that, and it will continue. This is not the store it was three years ago. I think that the resources and people who shop here see a colossal difference.”

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