Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Dillard Department Stores is finally plugging a big hole in its Southern strategy.
The Little Rock, Ark.-based chain is reportedly moving into Atlanta, a hot market for some of the industry’s best-known retailers, including Rich’s and Macy’s.
Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom are also eager to enter the market, but have yet to nail down sites.
Although Dillard’s officials could not be reached for comment, sources said the company’s plan is to open a 250,000-square-foot unit in the North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb about 10 miles north of Atlanta undergoing rapid development.
The mall already includes Rich’s, Sears, Roebuck, Lord & Taylor, Mervyn’s and J.C. Penney.
The Dillard’s store is expected to open in spring 1996, just before the Summer Olympics begin in Atlanta.
More Dillard’s openings are expected in the Atlanta metro area. Typically, when Dillard’s comes to town, it does so with a cluster of stores.
“This ends years of speculation on when Dillard would enter the lucrative Atlanta market,” said Kenneth Londoner, vice president of J&W Seligman, investment managers. “The Atlanta market fits Dillard’s geographic footprint like a jewel.”
Dillard’s currently has no presence in Georgia but surrounds the state with stores.
Londoner added that the timing is interesting, considering Federated Department Stores’ takeover of R.H. Macy in December. Macy’s and Rich’s, a Federated division, share seven locations in the South, raising the probability that some weaker units could be sold.
In addition, the cost of the merger has created new financial realities for Federated, which is in the process consolidating four divisions into two to cut expenses and improve merchandising. Abraham & Straus is being folded into Macy’s East and Lazarus is being merged with Rich’s. Federated recently sold two A&S properties to Sears, and analysts expect talks with retailers on asset sales to continue.
However, a Federated spokeswoman said Friday, “Federated has no plans to give up any stores in Atlanta.” The Atlanta area is the 11th largest metropolitan region in the U.S. and one of the fastest growing. In the four counties surrounding the city — Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton — the population is expected to have increased almost 13 percent between 1992 and 1997 to about 2.4 million.
“The economy in the Southeast in terms of employment, incomes and building starts looks positive,” said Russell Stravitz, chairman and chief executive officer of Rich’s. “Atlanta and the Southeast are enjoying a tremendous amount of industrial growth. Major international firms, such as UPS, BMW and Mercedes have opened facilities in the South. The Olympics will further spur the activity.”