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FASHION : Bloomingdale's to Go West--but Where?


At the moment, Bloomingdale's is the big retailer that could.

It could, for example, erect its first West Coast store on a Beverly Hills parking lot. Or, it could bestow that honor on Century City. Then again, it could take the whole project off to a mall in Orange County.

In a game that could end any moment, the stakes are high: about 1,000 jobs and more than $1 million in sales-tax revenue--plus the cachet of having what some say will be the grandest Bloomie's outside Manhattan.

On the downside, the store could tie up traffic for miles, take business away from existing merchants and disappoint shoppers who were expecting an exact replica of the 59th Street and Lexington Avenue establishment.

While a Beverly Drive location leads the West Coast contenders, Bloomingdale's Chairman Michael Gould (former chief executive officer of Robinson's and Giorgio of Beverly Hills) insists that all options are open. He is being actively pursued by Mayor Richard Riordan's office, he says, despite reports that Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky objects to the Century City site because it would draw an additional 10,000 cars daily.

Increased congestion is also a sore point with Rodeo Drive merchant Herbert Fink, owner of Theodore, who says the streets of his "small town . . . are not conducive to a large amount of traffic." He calls Bloomingdale's "a great organization" but questions "their reason to be."

"Does Beverly Hills or the surrounding area really need another major department store? I certainly don't know what they would have to offer in addition to what already exists in the area."

Fellow Rodeo Drive retailer Fred Hayman calls the move "a double-edged sword. It's very positive from the point of view that Bloomingdale's is a very big name, and it should bring a lot of new customers. But my sense is that the big stores--Saks, I. Magnin's, Neiman Marcus, maybe Barneys--might be affected."

The big stores, however, are talking nice. Says Neiman General Manager John Martens: "I do believe that for every sale they get, it's possibly one we may not get. But at the same time, I'm delighted they are coming to town. Personally, I'd like them right next to me to bring shoppers here."

Waiting to see how it all plays out are East Coast transplants, and frequent commuters, for whom the store's contents will be every bit as important as the address. Many are wondering if there will be a facsimile of Manhattan's gourmet food section.

"Well, we're hoping to have something like that," Gould says, cautiously noting that the original Bloomie's "is hard to duplicate. It's like the theater. Go to it in New York, then go to it in other cities. It's not quite the same. But I think we can replicate a lot: the quality of the merchandise, the excitement of the store, the visual impact."

Etienne Taenaka, manager of the Vidal Sassoon salon on Rodeo Drive, hopes so. He recently moved back to California after eight years in New York.

"I was a consummate Bloomingdale's shopper," he says. "They had everything I needed and anything I wanted. The bread, the caviar, the coffee, the gift items. And definitely the clothes--just the way they're put together. There is so much to see."

When the store comes to California, Taenaka wants the works: "The amazing menswear department, the appliances, the extended home furnishings, the little post office, the luggage, the books."

And the theatrics. "They always had a theme going, something inspiring. If they don't have all that," he says, "it will be just like Bullock's--with better clothes."

Tracy Lawrence, public relations director for Rampage Clothing Co., moved from New York to Los Angeles five months ago and she longs for "the great furniture department where you could find everything." She even misses the cosmetics floor: "As annoying as it was, it had the biggest range. You could always find the perfect lipstick at Bloomingdale's. But you get sprayed to death. It's heavy-duty fragrance."

While Gould isn't giving away too many specifics, he says there will be no post office and possibly no furniture department. But he promises that there will be plenty of the famous Bloomie's undies, along with familiar designer names, private-label merchandise and "some merchandise made just for us."

All that might not be enough to draw shoppers such as Daphne Elliott. A New York transplant who lives in Agoura, she spent nearly every lunch hour in the Manhattan store during the '50s and '60s. But the two parted in the '70s, she says: "It got out of my range age-wise, money-wise and style-wise. I was offended."

A former fashion copywriter familiar with merchandising concepts, Elliott doubts that affluent Southern Californians, born to shop in boutiques and specialty stores, will take to "so much mass-produced merchandise under one roof."

But the thought of a Bloomie's in her neighborhood fills Judy Davidson, partner in a L.A. public relations firm, with nostalgia.

"When Queen Elizabeth came to the United States, that was the place she wanted to go," recalls Davidson, who also remembers that the store "had the best shopping bags. They were better than a briefcase, better than an attache case. All the women wanted to carry them."

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