Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — Lord & Taylor, the 170-year-old specialty store, carries the tradition torch. Its fashion is considered safe, tasteful and rarely risque.
Some also say that it’s become boring and low profile under the ownership of May Department Stores since 1986; that the old L&T fashion charm has been lost. Even the store’s advertising is a bit quaint and tired: It’s been using the same old delicate illustrations with the tag line “the signature of American style” for decades.
What hasn’t been lost is the chain’s popularity and ability to increase volume and post profits. Merchandise is said to be tightly managed, and the store gets in and out of inventories quickly. Merchandise doesn’t linger, and customers keep coming back. May Co. effectively moves tonnage.
The 59-unit chain does big business with Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, Liz Claiborne, Tommy Hilfiger, Carole Little, Tahari, DKNY, Ellen Tracy and Evan-Picone. American designers are indeed Lord & Taylor’s greatest strength.
“We define our fashion as updated classics focusing on three lifestyle needs: career, weekend and special occasion,” a spokeswoman said.
The chain operates stores in 16 states and the District of Columbia, leaving much potential territory for expansion, provided it doesn’t interfere with other regional May Co. divisions.
L&T stores average 125,000 square feet.
The chain made the list for the first time, placing number nine in the top 10. It was ranked among the top-five stores in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Miami. The store is popular with a college-educated, mature woman over 50 from upper income households.
According to the WWD survey, shoppers liked L&T for quality, brand selection, service and fit.
In 1995, L&T had sales of $1.59 billion, a 9.3 percent increase over 1994. In the May Co. stable, Filene’s had the highest rate of sales per square foot at $236, followed by Lord & Taylor, with sales of $233 per square foot.
May Co. has been carefully expanding the chain. In 1995, it bought Woodward & Lothrop, and its John Wanamaker division, and has plans for opening Lord & Taylor units in several locations, including the former Wanamaker flagship in downtown Philadelphia in 1997.
The company is planning to open a Lord & Taylor store at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, N.J., in February. Units are planned for the Christiana Mall in Newark, Del., and the Harrisburg East Mall in Harrisburg, Pa., in March.
In addition, Lord & Taylor is building a replacement store at the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver, which is undergoing a renovation.
This year, Lord & Taylor opened two stores in New Jersey at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus and the Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge. The company also added two stores to the Washington area in Lake Forest in Gaithesburg, Md., and Fair Oaks Shopping Center in Fairfax, Va.