Byline: Nancy Brumback

While the Nordstrom store that opened in September “anchors” the booming retail scene at the southern end of Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile shopping zone, the sleek, glass-fronted mall that leads into that store has boosted the fashion tone of the area.
The four-level arcade, dubbed The Shops at North Bridge, features trendy apparel and accessories shops, mostly for women, on the first and second floors. The third floor, anchored by the third LEGO Imagination Store in the country, caters to children, primarily up to age 6. And the fourth floor is a smorgasbord of six innovative restaurants. The complex is only a few blocks from the Merchandise Mart.
The arcade entrance doubles as Nordstrom’s Michigan Avenue entrance, though the Nordstrom store itself is set back a block west of that street. A 94-foot atrium with a dramatic hanging glass and metal sculpture forms the entrance of the retail complex, with a curved “street” of gray and black granite leading back to the Nordstrom store, which has entrances to the mall on all four levels.
Along the curved corridor, storefronts made almost entirely of glass provide a full view of the merchandise inside, with the stores’ names displayed on gray granite blocks. The mall interior was designed so all four levels are visible, with escalators and elevators at the front and rear.
The shops take up about 112,000 square feet and the space is about 85 percent leased, according to Amy Curran, a leasing executive with developer John Buck Co.
The retail complex is part of a nine-block development that includes three hotels, one the 310-room Le Meridien Hotel that is located above The Shops and will open in April. The area also boasts several restaurants, the ESPN Zone and Disney Quest entertainment venues, and stores such as Kenneth Cole, Eddie Bauer, Levis Only and the Virgin Megastore.
The increased traffic expected at the southern end of Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River, has also drawn a Gap flagship store that opened in mid-November, and a new Guess store. Several stores, including Niketown and the Cole Haan store have been remodeled as well.
Russell C. Salzman, president of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, noted the impact of the nine-block North Bridge development is significant, with three new hotels and more than 2,000 parking spaces, as well as the retail and restaurant locations. “We think the pie is growing dramatically,” rather than promoting cannibalization, he added.
“With the Shops and Nordstrom opening, there will be a heightened awareness of the place the Magnificent Mile has in retail and in consumer circles around the country,” he said.
Three of the first-level shops have additional entrances on Michigan Avenue — Erwin Pearl jewelers, Oilily for women, and Boss Hugo Boss, in a 6,900-square-foot location that wraps around the 1,200-square-foot Oilily store.
A|X Armani Exchange has a 7,000-square-foot first-level location, and Sephora cosmetics takes 5,000 square feet.
Annie Abbruzzese, director of communications for Oilily USA, which also has a children’s store on the mall’s third floor, said sales since the store opened at the end of September have been “steady, with some great surprise days.”
The shop’s prime location “helps customers get past the mindset that Oilily is only children’s wear,” she added.
The holidays were good at the store, Abruzzese said, drawing both tourist and local traffic. “The Nordstrom traffic is really helping us.” Oilily is seeing a “stronger than hoped for” reaction to its spring line and new catalog after the cold weather in Chicago, she added.
The customer base at this location seems different from that at the Dutch chain’s 900 North Michigan Avenue store, at the opposite end of the shopping mile. That store, she said, attracts a lot of customers staying at the upscale hotels nearby or who live in Chicago’s Gold Coast condos.
At North Bridge, “we’re seeing more tourist and lunchtime and after work shoppers.”
Chris Nadi, store manager for Benetton at North Bridge, which has a women’s shop on the first level and a children’s store on the third, agreed. Benetton likewise has a store in the vertical mall at 900 North Michigan, “that has an older clientele. What he’s selling is different from what I’m selling.”
The North Bridge location, Nadi added, has more foot traffic with shoppers passing by on the way to Nordstrom.
Sales since the opening have been “very, very good. Traffic is very strong,” Nadi said.
The mall’s first floor features two high-end jewelry stores, Erwin Pearl and C. D. Peacock, both near the Michigan Avenue entrance.
The accessories shops on this level include branches of French cosmetics retailers Sephora and French handbag retailer Soco, that firm’s fifth U.S. store. There is also a Swatch watch shop and an Optica eyewear branch.
Boss Hugo Boss and A|X Armani Exchange on the first level and the Tommy Bahama store on the second feature both men’s and women’s apparel.
Carriere, a branch of Canadian retailer and manufacturer Femme De Carriere, has opened its third U.S. store in North Bridge.
Mary Graham, director of Femme De Carriere U.S.A., said early results for the store, which focus on women’s suits, have been “really great.”
Graham noted the North Bridge store is the chain’s flagship for the Midwest. While the privately held company does not release sales projections, she said, “We expect it to do as well as our top-performing stores in Toronto,” such as the unit in Eaton Center.
“We are really pleased with the holiday numbers, and customer response has been unbelievable,” she added.
“Chicago women are not in a sportswear frame of mind. This is a woman who gets dressed up to shop,” said Graham. “Our Chicago customers are buying three or four suits at a time.”
The Montreal-based company chose Chicago for its third U.S. location after consulting with the Wool Bureau, which determined that the Windy City is a strong market for wool clothing.
Carriere plans to offer its suit line on a wholesale basis to “selected” department stores starting with the fall 2001 lines and is also considering becoming a private label supplier, Graham added.
The mall’s second level features a 3,200-square-foot Tommy Bahama store. It’s the only shop in the mall to depart from the glass store front, using instead the brand’s signature plantation look, with fake shutters framing display windows, a pineapple motif above the windows and door and soft Caribbean colors of yellow and green.
Donna Pierson, Midwest retail regional manager for Tommy Bahama, said the company opted for the second-level location in order to do the exterior in its own design, something the developer vetoed on the first floor.
Inside, the store is painted in tropical colors, with rattan and bamboo fixtures, a decidedly laid-back look to complement Tommy Bahama’s soft sportswear for both men and women.
“We expect this store to be among the top three in the company without restaurants,” said Pierson, who declined to project a specific sales figure. “We’re very excited to be on Michigan Avenue.” The manufacturer currently operates 12 retail stores.
“Holiday sales were lovely. We’re very, very pleased. The store’s doing exactly what we projected, and as each month gets a wee bit warmer, we are doing better,” Pierson said, noting that the resort-oriented nature of much of the Tommy Bahama line means its peak sales season starts in March and runs through the summer.
“We had a great Valentine’s Day in Chicago,” Pierson added, with sales to both tourist and local customers.
The second level also includes a large Ann Taylor Loft store, Lucky Brand Dungarees store and El Portal, a shop for luggage and travel accessories. Chicago shoe retailer Hanig’s has opened a Hanig’s Mephisto shop on this level, and there’s a Brass Boot store as well. For accessories, there’s a combination Sunglass Hut and Watch Station.
A gourmet candy shop, Vosges Haut Chocolat, features the sweet handiwork of two Chicago candymakers.
The fourth-level food court, Chicago’s Magnificent Meal, features six restaurants native to Chicago with their own entrances and seating areas, plus a dining area outside the restaurants, with Chicago skyline views through the glass atrium windows.
The restaurants there include Cafe Salsa, a Mexican concept; Fluky’s for hot dogs and hamburgers; Grancrema, a coffee and juice bar; Max Orient for Asian specialties; Potbelly Sandwich Works, and Tuscany Cafe, an Italian restaurant.