BRADLEES UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

Byline: Mark Tosh

NEW YORK — After just six weeks in business, Bradlees on 14th Street has scored with a wide cross section of urban shoppers.
Low prices are the discount store’s main attraction, but convenience and a strong housewares selection add punch to its drawing card. Shoppers also praised Bradlees’ service and breadth of merchandise, but apparel was far from the top of their lists.
These are some of the findings of an informal WWD survey of shoppers exiting the Bradlees on Union Square last week.
One woman said she shops Bradlees for housewares and, despite buying a nightgown on a recent visit, she generally was not inclined to buy women’s apparel there. “I think their wearing apparel is low-grade,” she said.
Roy Polayes, manager of the Union Square Bradlees, acknowledged that customers have given “mixed reviews” to the store’s sportswear, but he said this has not always stopped them from purchasing a basic apparel item.
“The same people who stop me and say, ‘Why don’t you go out and get some more fashionable sportswear?’ on their way out have bought a bra, a pair of tights, a pair of men’s socks or a necktie,” he said. “At the same time, they are telling us how unfashionable or dumb our selection is.”
Polayes characterized the overall apparel selection as “a more suburban assortment” than most New York City stores traditionally show, but he said he expects Bradlees to develop “a regular trade” that likes its current selection. Bradlees also will modify its assortments to accommodate “those people who give us feedback either through their sales dollars or their comments,” he said.
“On basics we have to have a very strong franchise where we can compare our brand names with any department stores’ brand names. And our prices are generally lower.”
Although most of the apparel assortment in the Union Square store was committed before the store opened, Polayes said Bradlees made a last-minute attempt to upgrade its dress selection to be “more in line with local tastes.”
As a result, he said, dress sales on Union Square are “twice that” of the rest of the chain.
Right now, Bradlees is under the spotlight. The six-level store, which opened on the site of the former Mays Department Store, is the first big discounter to open in Manhattan. Its level of success is of prime interest to several other discounters and department stores scurrying for sites here.
In addition to Bradlees, which is looking for other sites in the five boroughs, Kmart Corp. will open on 34th Street next year with additional stores expected to follow. Sears, Roebuck & Co., J.C. Penney Co. and Caldor Corp. also are scurrying to find New York City and metropolitan area sites.
Determining who shops at discount and moderate-price department stores — as well as what draws them — will become increasingly important as their numbers grow in urban areas. The informal survey last week found a range of shoppers at Bradlees, from students and professionals to blue-collar workers.
Whether they were shopping for health and beauty aids, electronic items or toys for Christmas, nearly every shopper questioned cited “inexpensive” or “reasonable” prices as one of the reasons they visited Bradlees.
In addition to destination shoppers, Bradlees also drew its share of browsers, bargain hunters and curious first-time visitors. One man praised Bradlees for carrying a wool cap with a suede visor at $9.99, less than half the price of a similar cap Saks Fifth Avenue carried last year, he said.
Other shoppers left the store with bags from nearby retailers, such as Toys R Us and Herman’s World of Sporting Goods, and one woman exited carrying a Barneys New York shopping bag.
Here, some shopper reactions.
Bill Haemmerle, 26, a student who lives “around the corner” from Bradlees but had never been inside the store before, said he stopped at the discounter to pick up some items for a Christmas gift exchange. He bought a scarf and ear muffs and said he would probably go back to the store.
“If I was looking for another inexpensive gift, I’d come back again.” l Mary Webber, a professional who works in a Manhattan office, said she made a special trip to Bradlees because of a sale on slipcovers. She saw the promotion advertised in a Bradlees flyer inserted in Sunday’s newspaper.
“The prices are pretty good, the selection was good,” said Webber, who lives in Brooklyn. “It reminded me of Mays.”
Gary F., of Manhattan, said he was impressed by Bradlees’ wide aisles, polite employees and its selection of national brands. He particularly liked the store’s health and beauty department, including men’s shaving supplies.
“The prices on things I saw were exceptional.” Still, he said that lots of categories were not available. “I was looking for certain health and beauty aids, the kind of things you find in a speciality store. I would have been more surprised if they had them.”
Jose Correa, a construction worker who lives in Manhattan, said he shops at Bradlees “almost every weekend.” Correa said he has purchased merchandise ranging from sweaters to electronic items.
Bradlees carries a “pretty good selection,” he said, and at “reasonable prices.”
Margaret Duncan of Manhattan said she’s already a loyal Bradlees shopper and visits the store “about three or four times a week.”
On one previous visit, Duncan said she bought two Sony Walkman units. She also usually “browses” through the women’s apparel departments.
“I saw a couple of things I’m going to buy,” she said, including a black suit and a long jumper.
Deirdre Fahy of Manhattan said she was at Bradlees looking for a gift to contribute to a Christmas charity drive at work.
“From the quick glance I had, [Bradlees] was like a large suburban store with inexpensive merchandise.” She ended up buying a pair of slippers, but said it is unlikely she would return to Bradlees to buy apparel for herself.
Fahy said she would prefer to do her clothes shopping at Filene’s Basement, another recent arrival on the Manhattan retailing scene.
“I’d probably come back for housewares,” said Fahy, who works in sales. “New York needs a good, cheap store.”
Darlene Deberry of Brooklyn, who works near the Bradlees store, said she was shopping at Bradlees for Christmas gifts for her children. She purchased a Fisher Price radio-controlled racer, which was on sale.
“At Toys R Us across the street, it was $10 more,” she said.
Deberry said she often checks the Bradlees advertising flyer for sale items and browses through the store. She said she is unlikely to purchase apparel for herself in the store. “I don’t think it’s attractive,” she said. “It looks like discount clothing.”
Roslyn Kay, who lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, said the arrival of Bradlees “changes the complexion of 14th Street.” “I think this is lovely that they brought in a fairly attractive store with a medium price range.” During her visit, Kay used a “rain check” to buy a Sony “boombox” for $88.88, a previously advertised special that sold out. Duncan said she also has purchased sheets at Bradlees, but has yet to buy any clothing at the store.

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