Eileen DiLeo and MaryAnne Morin, at Lord & Taylor in Garden City, N.Y.

The nation’s oldest department store is getting a dose of modernity.

Lord & Taylor, as part of a renovation program running through much of its 50-unit chain, has overhauled the 142,923-square-foot Garden City, N.Y., store; is finishing up a redo of its 157,050-square-foot Stamford, Conn., branch, and expanding and renovating the 160,389-square-foot Manhasset, N.Y., unit.

“We have a stronghold in each of these markets,” Liz Rodbell, president of the Hudson Bay Co.’s department store group, said. “We are investing in our top stores, touching 450,000 square feet. That’s very meaningful for us, size-wise, with the businesses involved and in terms of strengthening our connection to the communities.

“The stores we are renovating are some of our oldest,” Rodbell said. “Manhasset was our first branch opened literally 75 years ago. Now we are actually expanding it by over 36,000 square feet. It’s a beautiful all-glass expansion.” The expansion and renovation of the site are expected be completed in 2018.

Redos of the Lawrenceville, N.J., and King of Prussia, Pa., stores will commence next year, and improvements continue at the Fifth Avenue flagship where some major projects are expected to occur, though Rodbell said she preferred to wait for a later date to disclose what’s ahead.

While department stores are hurting for business and traffic, and some like Macy’s are closing doors, Rodbell’s main point was that investments being made in several key bricks-and-mortar locations underscore the positive future for its department store group, which includes Hudson’s Bay in Canada and Lord & Taylor in the U.S. She also noted that in the last few years, Lord & Taylor has opened a handful of units, in Boca Raton, Fla.; Ridge Hill, Westchester; Albany, N.Y., and Salem, N.H. A store is being planned for the American Dream mall in the Meadowlands, N.Y., in 2018. No other openings are set. At one time Lord & Taylor eyed additional sites in Florida but that effort seems to have subsided.

In a nation that’s still overstored, Lord & Taylor was ahead in the consolidation game, having 13 years ago closed 33 stores, reducing the chain to a regional operation concentrated in the Northeast, where the roots of the business lie.

“It is a challenging environment for everyone right now,” Rodbell acknowledged. “But at Lord & Taylor we are investing in the long haul and the future, as seen by these investments in branch stores and the flagship.”

Lord & Taylor, working to shed a “grandma’s store” reputation and get hipper, has been adding contemporary offerings while modernizing its settings. The Garden City store, for example, devotes much of its prime space to labels such as Theory as well as Design Lab, a one-and-a-half-year-old in-house brand. There’s also a pop-up shop for Jack Threads, a contemporary men’s wear line previously only sold online.

Asked if skewing younger is part of the strategy, Rodbell replied: “It’s very important to have a broad consumer base and to express our fashion in a more meaningful way by setting it in an environment that is chic and new, and by providing an experience to match the assortment. It’s important for us to be well-balanced in our offerings by addressing a classic as well as a contemporary customer, and to really set the tone for fashion at great value. It’s [critical] that we are accessible. We want to be fashion right, and well-balanced.”

The parent Hudson’s Bay Co. for years has been pumping up major Hudson’s Bay stores in Canada, and last week, disclosed its Dream Concept for the Kaufhof department stores in Germany, which revolves around beefing up the beauty, footwear and handbag departments as the crux of a 1 billion euro, five-to-seven year refurbishment program.

Rodbell declined to specify how much is being spent to revamp Lord & Taylor sites.

From door-to-door, “It’s a very consistent approach,” she said. It entails growing the ladies’ shoes, beauty, men’s wear, women’s active and dress departments; adding fresh fashion labels to the mix and eliminating weaker brands; updating fixturing, mannequins and visuals; making the shopping easier with wider aisles and extended sight lines, and enhancing social interaction with reconfigured selling areas and seating areas. In the Garden City store, there’s a holistic feeling where departments seem to flow naturally, rather than being sharply demarcated. The two floors are designed for flexibility so fixtures and departments can be changed, depending on sales trends.

While modernizing the setting, classic architectural elements are retained such as the moldings on columns and ceilings, and windows previously concealed to hide stock areas were uncovered, giving a brighter, airier aura.

At the Garden City store, 95 brands were added including YSL Beauty, Rebecca Minkoff, Ted Baker, Diane von Furstenberg, Shoshanna, The Brow Gal, Flawless by Friday, Jack Threads, Bow & Drape, Vince, Jack Wolfskin, Kendall & Kylie, Miss Selfridge, H Halston, and IMNYC Isaac Mizrahi. The Stamford store will receive many of the same brands.

“Many of our customers have grown up with this store,” said MaryAnne Morin, chief merchant of HBC’s department store group, during a tour of the store along with Eileen DiLeo, executive vice president of stores for the group. “Consumers here are very loyal and they’re very quick to tell us what [they like].” And no doubt what she doesn’t like.

“This was really about taking what’s been a hardworking store for us and modernizing the shopping experience from a flow perspective, sight line perspective, amenities perspective,” added Morin. “It also gave us an opportunity to expand some departments with high productivity. We expanded beauty by one-third and shoes by 25 percent. But we touched the entire building.”

Women’s active and dresses were relocated to the main floor from the upper level, thereby grouping women’s misses categories together. Petites was taken out of the store. “We also pulled back on intimates and kids but we still have a robust assortment of each,” Morin said. The store offers free basic alterations, petites are sold on the L&T web site, and there is one Lord & Taylor store in each region where the chain operates that sells petites, Morin noted. On Long Island, it’s the Bayshore store.

Other new features: a comprehensive active area for yoga, performance and ath-leisure styles; vertical fixtures that call out new brands and trends; seating “hubs” encouraging socializing and seeing selections by other customers; fitting rooms with call buttons to summon sales associates for quick service, and a spa for facials and makeovers.

The beauty department has uniformly designed canopies to identify brands and an open service configuration. “It’s not case-lined driven anymore,” observed DiLeo. “There’s no longer a huge separation between sales associates and consumers.”

The Garden City store — estimated by sources to generate around $50 million in annual sales — is, along with the Stamford unit, among the chain’s top-five volume producers. The Eastchester, N.Y. store is the chain’s highest-volume branch and is estimated to generate around twice the volume of Garden City. The entire Lord & Taylor chain is estimated at $1.4 billion in annual sales.

L&T’s best branches tend to be freestanding, such as the Eastchester, Manhasset and Garden City locations. Convenience is a big factor. Shoppers can drive right up and park by the store. There’s no mall to trudge through, and there’s often less immediate competition.

“They’re destinations,” Morin said. “Conversion levels are higher.”

Garden City’s relatively small box, by department store standards, “really makes the edit of product offering more important,” Morin said. “We are laser-focused on what the customer wants. We are constantly editing.”

Renovating stores, Morin added, “really gives us the opportunity to reset departments and expand, look at the productivity of brands, productivity of space. It’s quite an extensive, rigorous process.” At Garden City, “It’s been ten months renovating and three years of planning.”

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