Von Maur to fill unique West Michigan retail niche
Department store chain Von Maur is known around the Midwest for customer-friendly practices that harken back to the mid-20th century: no-interest charge cards, free gift-wrapping and shipping, and providing a pianist to entertain shoppers.
But last December, the company was thrust into the national spotlight when a 19-year-old man shot and killed eight people and then himself in its Omaha, Neb., store.
Von Maur last week announced plans to locate its third Michigan store at the $100 million Village of Orchard Hills, a “lifestyle center” retail and housing development in Grand Rapids Township. Construction is expected to begin in 2010, and the store’s opening is planned for 2011.
“I think we are a retailer that looks out to the future from the standpoint of expansion,” Von Maur CFO Bob Larsen said.
“Currently, retail environments are somewhat soft in certain locations in the U.S. We’ve still maintained good sales. We haven’t had near the softness of some other companies. We’re putting the store in, in 2011 — two, three years from now. We feel the economy will have turned around by then.”
Larsen said one reason the company was attracted to Grand Rapids is the medical development underway.
“We think it’s just a more diverse economy,” Larsen said. “It’s got the medical profession and that type of industry. During a downturn, the medical profession would stay a little bit more stable.”
In September, Von Maur opened a 135,000 square-foot store at a lifestyle center in Dayton, Ohio, and has announced plans to enter the Missouri market in 2010. Based in Davenport, Iowa, the family-owned Von Maur has 23 stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio. The Michigan stores are in Ann Arbor and Livonia.
The store carries fashions in the “better to bridge” categories, including such brands as Polo Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole, Garfield & Marks, Misook, Austin Reed, Tommy Bahama and Joseph Abboud. It is considered upscale to Macy’s, which occupies stores at Woodland Shopping Center and RiverTown Crossings Mall that once carried Marshall Field’s and Hudson’s nameplates.
“The metro area of Grand Rapids — and even bigger than that, West Michigan — does not have any upscale retailing,” said Earl Clements, vice president of retail for commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce. “We have individual stores that are of an upscale nature, but we don’t have anywhere in the area a shopping center that devotes itself to unique, quality, high-end retail.”
That’s why, he said, Von Maur presents minimal competition to stores in the two big malls. Instead, it represents competition for the area’s small, individual stores that offer upscale goods, such as Daniel’s. Von Maur fills a unique niche in the West Michigan market, he said, making it a good fit for the Village of Orchard Hills.
“It’s on the correct side of town, it’s a great area with good income, the highest traffic level that’s not a freeway — it’s a great location,” said Clements.
The current retail doldrums are unlikely to impact Von Maur’s plans, he added.
“This particular center will not open until 2011. The economic situation is cyclical, and we will get through this. It’s going to take a while, but things will be better.”
Larsen said Von Maur, which has located several stores in former Montgomery Ward’s, likes the opportunity to move into a brand-new building.
“The lifestyle center is attractive to us — the newness aspect of it,” he said. “I think we are excited about going into Grand Rapids. It’s a good community.”
The Associated Press reported that Von Maur last week settled a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. The company agreed to pay $50,000 to six blacks who were denied employment, to provide employment discrimination training to supervisors, and to post a notice of the judge’s order in its offices and stores in Davenport.