Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — J.C. Penney Co. will open a 166,000-square-foot store in the Bronx today that signals a retail renaissance for a borough that has long been considered understored.
Located at 100 Baychester Avenue in Co-Op City, the Penney’s unit is part of a 900,000-square-foot enclosed mall — the borough’s first — scheduled to open in 1999.
“The Bronx is a unique market that is underserved both by J.C. Penney and from a department store perspective,” said Ken Dall, Penney’s district manager for the region. “Most people leave the area to shop and go to White Plains or Manhattan.”
Dall said the new store solidifies the company’s position in the New York metropolitan region, adding, “We’re very, very bullish about our position in the market.”
The Mall at Bay Plaza, as the center will be called, is to have three department store anchors, themed restaurants, superstores, entertainment and 100 specialty stores.
Sources said Sears is close to signing a lease and Macy’s is negotiating with Shopco Group and Properties & Development Co., the center’s developers.
Old Navy Clothing Co. is reportedly planning to open a 15,000-square-foot freestanding store on an adjacent site.
A Sears spokeswoman said the company does not comment on speculation. A Macy’s spokeswoman said the company is not planning to enter the mall. Old Navy executives could not be reached.
For the Bronx store, Penney’s created a prototype with wide aisles, oversized departments for misses’ and career wear, men’s and children’s apparel and a 20-station styling salon.
Dall said Penney’s tailored the store’s merchandise to local tastes, noting that 40 percent of the area’s residents are African-American and 30 percent are Hispanic.
Penney’s decentralized buying system allows it to micro-merchandise, Dall said. In the Bronx, there will be more clothing with bold colors and prints than at typical Penney stores. That also goes for the bedding in the home department.
“We won’t be quite as Laura Ashley-looking,” Dall said.
“Most of our departments will be much more driven by national brands than a typical Penney’s store because the consumer in this area demands better quality and is more label conscious,” he said. “In studying our demographics, we decided to carry the better and best categories of clothing in terms of price and fashionability.”
Penney’s research found that in the Bronx trading area, which has 1.5 million people, about 46 percent have household incomes of between $25,000 and $75,000.
“It’s the range that J.C. Penney targets and that we do the very best with,” Dall said.
Penney’s is making a major push in the New York region and has been quietly opening stores and signing leases.
“We continue to look at Manhattan and Brooklyn,” said John Cody, president of J.C. Penney Stores. “There are some other sites we continue to explore. Our Queens store has been very profitable….We’d go into Manhattan or further into the Bronx or Queens. It just depends on what becomes available.”
Last month, the company opened a unit in the Smithhaven Mall in Smithtown, N.Y. Penney’s is also planning to open a 142,000-square-foot unit in the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, N.Y., and in the spring of 1998, the company will open “a store almost identical to the one in the Bronx in West Nyack, N.Y., at Palisades Center,” Dall said.
Dall said that since the Bronx store’s soft opening on Monday, he has been receiving kudos from residents.
“It shows you the new J.C. Penney Co.,” he said. “You’d be shocked. Customers can’t believe there is a store in the Bronx that has first-class merchandise.”

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