Jack Hruska at Bloomingdale's.

Jack Hruska, Bloomingdale’s executive vice president of creative services and one of the industry’s most prominent store designers, is retiring next month after 26 years with the company.

Hruska has been responsible for the design, planning and construction of Bloomingdale’s stores, as well as visual merchandising, special events and creative marketing. He’s also been instrumental in the ongoing renovation of Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship.

He will continue to work on projects for Bloomingdale’s on a consulting basis, including flagship renovations and store openings occurring this fall in the Westfield Valley Fair Mall in San Jose, Calif., and the Sono Collection in Norwalk, Conn., and in Abu Dhabi in 2019 or 2020, which will be Bloomingdale’s third store in the Middle East. Additionally, Hruska will be developing concepts to “reimagine” Bloomingdale’s shopping experience and “redefine” the work environment for the Bloomingdale’s team, which will be moving in spring 2020 from Third Avenue in Manhattan to a campus being developed in Long Island City, Queens. Some corporate offices will remain at the flagship.

“Jack is one of the most creative people I have ever met. He has an appetite and curiosity for what’s new and what’s next and he has an incredible history to pull from and knowledge of architecture and design,” said Tony Spring, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“He’s been incredible translating the design of our stores to what is appropriate and relevant to the community they’re in — yet they’re all under the construct of what creates consistency for Bloomingdale’s, whether it’s a store in Glendale, Calif., or Santa Monica, Calif.,” Spring explained, “They all different but they all look like Bloomingdale’s.”

“I’ve been planning this for years,” the 65-year-old Hruska said about his retirement in an exclusive interview with WWD. “I’ll still be very active at Bloomingdale’s, one week a month.”

He plans to divide his time between St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, where he has a home with his sister; Red Lodge, Mont., where he has a cabin, and in New York. He also intends to travel to places he’s never seen. South America is on his bucket list. “I want to be immersed in wherever I go,” he said.

Hruska began his career 47 years ago by creating backgrounds for windows at Hart-Albin Co., a former department store in his hometown of Billings, Mont. A consultant to that store, Peter Glen, encouraged Hruska to pursue a bigger career in retail so when he was 20, Hruska moved to Los Angeles and began working at Bullock’s, which eventually merged into Macy’s. There, he caught the eye of senior management and was tapped to be a visual manager.

Through the years, Hruska worked at a handful of department stores including Goldwater’s in Scottsdale, Ariz., and, in Los Angeles, The Broadway and J.W. Robinsons, which are all defunct now. It was at Robinsons where Hruska met Michael Gould, who ran Robinsons for several years and was chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s from 1992 to early 2014. Not long after he became Bloomingdale’s ceo, Gould recruited Hruska as vice president of visual merchandising. A year later, Hruska was promoted to senior vice president, adding store design and planning to his responsibilities. In 2007, Hruska was again promoted, to executive vice president of creative services.

Hruska, working closely with Gould and Spring, had a steady diet of projects and opportunities to develop innovative interior and exterior designs and merchandise presentations, down to the lighting, colors, textures and systems of mannequin placements, during periods of store expansion, particularly in California in the Nineties. Bloomingdale’s grew from 14 stores in 1992 to 36 stores and 17 outlets currently. The business generates about $3 billion in annual sales.

Most recently, Hruska and Spring presided over the renovation of the 59th Street flagship’s home store, completed last year. The environment emphasizes comfort and conveniences to encourage socializing and sticking around, product education through demos, visual displays laced with whimsy, and shallower merchandise presentations for better browsing and access to products. “The home store hadn’t really been redone for decades. It’s one of our competitive advantages,” Hruska said, adding that Bloomingdale’s 59th Street continues to renovate with ready-to-wear, footwear and beauty floor projects in the works.

“Department stores have transitioned into becoming more about ready-to-wear and have given up on what made them unique as one-stop shopping with a variety of merchandise. But Bloomingdale’s is still the most complete department store around because we have home, men’s, women’s, beauty, accessories, kids, as does Macy’s in some of their stores,” Hruska said. Bloomingdale’s is a division of Macy’s Inc.

“More traditional department stores will become a combination of showroom selling and immersive experience,” Hruska predicted. “The combination of those two will make the shopping experience easier, tactile and interesting and provide reasons to go there. This will happen in the next five years.” Showrooming, he said, enables department stores to widen the range of categories while merchandising fewer actual items on the selling floors, entails “drop shipping” by vendors, and he believes showrooming becomes a more entertaining and easier to shop environment. “Plowing through tons of clothing is not anybody’s idea of a fun time, except if it’s a really steep discounted shopping experience,” Hruska said.

Bloomingdale’s remains “extremely active” with store projects and has room to grow, Hruska said. “We only have 38 stores. We’re a small company so we are nimble at trying new ideas. It’s less risky for us. We have great opportunities to develop new concepts people will be interested in. I can’t just outright retire. I have to come back and help.”

Asked what’s been his favorite aspect of his job, Hruska replied: “It’s always the next challenge. But what was also most rewarding was my chance for a boy from Montana to meet interesting people, see the world and to be exposed to its diversity.”

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