The Lord & Taylor flagship store on Fifth Avenue is seen, in New York. Lord & Taylor is abandoning plans to keep a store in the Fifth Avenue flagship it is selling, as the chain's owner closes more stores and focuses on online salesLord & Taylor Flagship, New York, USA - 06 Jun 2018

Lord & Taylor is closing its historic Fifth Avenue flagship, but the company wants to hang onto its New York customer base.

“We know the closing of the New York flagship is significant,” Vanessa LeFebvre, president of Lord & Taylor, told WWD. But the company is “fueling a go-forward strategy and focused on building a more meaningful connection with our customers for a sustainable future,” LeFebvre added.

The Lord & Taylor flagship will launch its store closing sale on Thursday. Yet there’s an upside. It’s likely to draw bigger-than-usual shopper traffic — those loyalists looking to spend a final few days in the store for nostalgic reasons, and to grab some serious bargains.

“There will be great opportunities for customers to take advantage of,” LeFebvre said, regarding discounts. She added that new merchandise will continue to flow into the flagship through the remainder of the year. The flagship will close after the holiday season concludes.

LeFebvre suggested that many who shopped the flagship could shop a branch as an alternative, noting that the 45-unit department store chain has 18 stores within commuting distance of Manhattan.

Aside from picking up business at branches, Lord & Taylor is looking to accelerate its e-commerce business. Last summer, Lord & Taylor opened a store on walmart.com. Asked how that was going, LeFebvre replied, “We are still in the early days. We are encouraged by our relationship (with Walmart) and looking forward to the holiday season and starting to ramp up with more significance. We are excited that new customers are getting exposed to our brand.”

There have been murmurings that Lord & Taylor is contemplating a return, in some form or manner, to Manhattan. Asked about the possibility, LeFebvre answered, “I don’t have any updates at this point in time. Our thinking centers on our future and what those pillars of growth are.”

Lord & Taylor, the oldest department store in the U.S., was founded in 1826. Despite some strong suburban branches, business for several years overall has been tough at the department store chain, with the 11-story, 650,000-square-foot Manhattan flagship long experiencing noticeably weak traffic, compared to nearby Macy’s four blocks away, and Saks Fifth Avenue, 10 blocks north.

Despite its formidable presence on Fifth Avenue and various physical upgrades over the years, the flagship for decades strived to overcome a reputation for being “your grandma’s store.” It also felt stranded, being blocks away from the hubbub of Herald Square, and too far south of 42nd Street to capture enough Midtown pedestrian traffic.

Some retailers, such as Macy’s, Restoration Hardware and Nordstrom, as well as Saks and Hudson’s Bay (both divisions of Hudson’s Bay Co., like L&T), operate profitably in large flagship locations. But not everybody. “We are not alone in our struggles with a large format,” LeFebvre said. “The way the customer and shopping methods are evolving, it can make these footprints more challenging. We are focused on how we can (provide) more convenient, seamless shopping experiences for our customers. She’s a time-starved, working mom.”

Lord & Taylor plans to close up to 10 locations, including the flagship, which is in the process of being sold to WeWork to help the Hudson’s Bay Co. reduce its debt and improve its balance sheet.

Lord & Taylor’s flagship closing sale will run through the 2018 holiday season. “Super” sale prices of up to 70 percent off will be offered across men’s, women’s and children’s apparel; shoes; handbags; jewelry; accessories and home items, with additional discounts popping up until the close, the company said. Lord & Taylor gift cards and credit cards will be honored through the sale.
Despite the closings, Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay executives have taken the position that there’s a good future ahead for the division.
“We have many stores that will still be with us. We are feeling energized and ready to start seeking growth,” LeFebvre said.
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