Fortunoff to open a store in White Plains, New York

Fortunoff, the Long-Island, New York, based jewelry and home furnishings retailer, is about to start work on a 180,000- square-foot store in White Plains, New York, on the site of a closed Saks Fifth Avenue store, The New York Times reported. The change will bring the first full-size Fortunoff store to Westchester County while marking the departure of Saks from the county after almost 50 years.

The company, which also has a store on Fifth Avenue in New York City and four other suburban stores, will build an additional 80,000 square feet in its building for other tenants, possibly including a restaurant. Saks, whose store at the site was 128,000 square feet. announced its plan to close its Westchester store in June, saying its interests would best be met by “concentrating our resources on our other locations in the surrounding area,.” The newspaper reported.

The department store’s closest outlets are in Stamford and Greenwich in Connecticut and in Manhattan. The shuttering of the White Plains store is one of several Saks Fifth Avenue closings within the past two years. In all, Saks Inc. operates 61 Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

The old department store building in White Plains, which contains pockets of encapsulated asbestos, according to city officials, is to be razed, the newspaper reported.

The opening of the new Fortunoff is part of a larger redevelopment effort in downtown White Plains, the newspaper reported. White Plains, often called the City of 1,000 Stores in the 1940’s and 1950’s, has experienced a high vacancy rate in its downtown retail area in the past decade, with the smaller stores on Mamaroneck Avenue and the side streets languishing in the shadow of the malls.

Although Fortunoff will also stand apart from the city’s two major retail malls-the Galleria Mall and The Westchester-its planners expect it to fare better than Saks, the newspaper reported.

Fortunoff, a privately held company, is predicting $90 million in sales for its first year of operation in White Plains, the newspaper reported.

The new Fortunoff is expected to have 600 full- and part-time workers, the newspaper reported. In June, Saks said it employed about 100 people at the White Plains site.

Fortunoff paid $14 million for the Saks Fifth Avenue building and six acres of land on which it is located, Louis Fortunoff, the retailer’s vice president, told the newspaper. He added that the retailer locates in areas where there are 200,000 households with an average household income of $75,000 or more within a 15-mile radius, the newspaper reported.

Fortunoff also presented material to the city citing statistics from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that Westchester residents annually spend $114 million on jewelry, $959 million on home furnishings and $506 million on housewares, appliances, and tabletop items like china, crystal, and silverware.

After considering other sites in White Plains, Fortunoff decided on the Saks site, opposite The Westchester, which attracts many well-to-do customers. Because it is not practical to construct a bridge between the mall and the new Fortunoff site, the city will spend $2 million to improve pedestrian access between the two sites, the newspaper reported. The money will cover curb, water main and sidewalk work; traffic signals; and underground wiring.

Last month, the White Plains Common Council approved plans for Fortunoff’s retail center after the company made several changes to allay neighbors’ concerns. Initially, neighbors objected to the proposal, saying it would further disrupt life in their quiet neighborhood of one- and two-family homes.

Residents were reportedly worried about noise, exhaust fumes and other pollution; increased traffic; and cars parking on side streets in front of their houses.

In response to their concerns, Fortunoff has agreed to enclose its loading dock, which is near a private backyard, and move a proposed service road to make room for a planted buffer zone. In addition, asbestos removal will be carefully monitored when Saks is demolished, and construction workers will be instructed to park on site or in specially designated areas, the newspaper reported.

While the city of White Plains is offering no specific financial incentives to Fortunoff, the county will issue $90 million to $110 million in taxable bonds, the newspaper reported. The proceeds from the sale of the bonds will be dispersed to Fortunoff to pay construction costs, and the interest and principal on the bonds will be repaid by the company, which has made a commitment to have the store in operation by December 2003. The bonds are typically purchased by corporations or banks looking for short-term liquid investments.

The developer is also receiving state and local sales tax breaks on construction and equipment.

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