Byline: Rusty Williamson

HOUSTON — Angling to expand its Houston customer base and assert its dominance over the high-end market here, Neiman Marcus said Friday it plans to open a 150,000-square-foot store in a remodeled mall in Memorial, one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, in 2001.
The store will replace a 153,000-square-foot Neiman’s unit in the Town & Country Mall that will close when the new store opens in the Memorial City Mall, according to Jeff Chojnacki, vice president and general manager of Neiman’s Town & Country unit.
Memorial City Mall is only one mile east of Town & Country, but logistically, it is much more of a gateway to the wealthy Memorial population and is highly accessible by car. Town & Country is plagued by traffic snarls, according to many Houstonians who shop there.
“It’s really a great opportunity for us to move to a center that’s in line with the needs and wants of our customers,” Chojnacki said. “It will expand on our present Town & Country customer base and should provide a substantial increase in volume.”
The 1.35 million-square-foot Memorial City Mall, built in 1966, is managed by Taubman Centers of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which plans to renovate the center and greatly expand its retail roster.
Robert J. Taubman, president and chief executive officer of Taubman Centers, said Neiman’s commitment to Memorial City was pivotal in realizing the new vision for the center.
“Neiman Marcus sets the tone for the center’s future levels of upscale fashion and service,” he noted. In addition to Neiman’s, other upscale tenants are likely, but have not yet committed, he said. The mall’s current anchors include Foley’s, Mervyn’s, Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck.
Total sales at Memorial City Mall surpassed $235 million last year. Taubman officials said some of the mall’s present anchors could close in light of the overhaul, although stores with a range of price points could be a marketing plus.
Neiman’s has long had a presence in Houston. The company opened its first branch outside hometown Dallas in 1955. Neiman’s has two stores here now.
Its Galleria store, which rings up more designer business than any of its other units and posts the chain’s second-highest volume, is in the midst of a renovation that’s set for completion next summer.
The Galleria revamp was considered critical by industry observers in light of the opulent Saks Fifth Avenue that opened last month at the Galleria.
Saks has made no secret of its aggressive plans to try to snatch designer business away from Neiman’s with its ritzy three-level store that features a gold-leaf facade and an emphasis on women’s designer apparel.
Sources said the new Saks unit is a big hit with the Houston designer crowd and that nearly a dozen full-time seamstresses are working long hours just to keep up with all the couture alterations.
The store posted over $2 million in sales its first three days of business. Ironically, Saks also opened another store in September at Town & Country Mall, which Neiman’s will vacate in 2001 with the opening of its new Memorial City site.
Neiman’s said it will open a 150,000-square-foot store in Plano, Tex., in 2001, in a new, still-unnamed Taubman Co. mall. The store will replace a unit at Prestonwood Town Center in nearby north Dallas that will close when the new store opens.

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