The execs at Shoppes of Arbor Lakes had a comment or ten about my recent "MG boutique crisis" post. (As did some shoppers – check out their responses and weigh in.) They were quick to point out that Hot Mama and Goodthings aren’t the only local stores – National Camera Exchange, North Star Home Fitness, Let’s Dish and Pittsburgh Blue are also Minnesota companies. I didn’t mention those because I was focused on true boutiques – clothing and gift shops that might draw shoppers from other parts of the metro.
But here are some other points worth sharing from the marketing team at Arbor Lakes:
-"Retail is constantly evolving as trends change. We work with our leasing department in order to find tenants with concepts that best reflect the market and compliment the existing mix of stores."
-"Rents are competitive with market pricing. While I cannot disclose the nature and terms of our deals, we work with local tenants to ensure that the rents will definitely allow them to ‘pay the rent next door to a Pottery Barn or Gap’."
-"Rising gasoline prices and the housing downturn have been a factor in local and national tenant sales performance. Bombay and The Sharper Image closed stores nationwide as a result of bankruptcy. The economy is forcing retailers– both local and national– to close across the metro, not just in Maple Grove."
-"Our retail district features successful retail stores and restaurants such as Anthropologie, Trader Joe’s, Pottery Barn, and P.F. Chang’s that have limited locations in the Twin Cities. These tenants, coupled with successful locally owned tenants do create a distinct retail environment. Maple Grove features the second highest square footage of retail in Minnesota, second only to Bloomington."
All valid, interesting points. And it should be said that I enjoy the Shoppes on a sunny day, and if I lived nearby, I’m sure I would shop it all the time. But I don’t feel compelled to rush there from other parts of the Twin Cities on a regular basis, since you can find most of the stores elsewhere. The setting is nice and neat, but because it does break from the traditional mall, I’d like to see the tenant mix do more of the same. One shopper commented that perhaps no one is interested in local boutiques – Maple Grove has so much else to offer. Maybe that’s true – and hey, of course there are days when it’s easier to dash into the Gap than to browse little specialty shops – but all that sameness gets a little boring.
Now I understand why guys are so excited about the U.S. Women’s Open, taking place this weekend at Interlachen Country Club in Edina. Natalie Gulbis. She’s the hottie on the course: long, blond hair, killer long legs that she loves to flaunt in skirts up to there, and, unlike Anna Kournikova, she has a win to her credit.
Am I impressing you with my vast golfing knowledge? Well, it ends there. But I can tell you Natalie’s favorite jeans: True Religion. I got a crash course in all things Gulbis this week when the sports department at the Pioneer Press asked if I’d write something "fun and fashiony" about the Open. Paula Kraemer wouldn’t talk to me about her penchant for pink. Jennifer Rosales didn’t return my calls. But girly golfer Natalie Gulbis was happy to trade her Adidas for Dior stilettos to go shopping with me at the Galleria. We met at BCBG which happens to be one of her favorite stores because everything fits her so well (um, does anything not fit a body like that? "I have an athletic build," she complains). She likes dresses (Shorter the better. If I had legs like hers, I’d feel the same) because you put one on and you’re good to go. Outfits are too much trouble (and too cumbersome, perhaps?). When she’s on the road, she picks a color scheme – this trip, it’s black and gold. She won’t even buy something that doesn’t coordinate. She liked the bags at Pumpz & Company, although not as much as the Chanel she was carrying, which was a gift from a friend. (I’m really hanging with the wrong crowd.) She tried on an Anna Sui dress at Arafina, but didn’t buy. As much as she loves fashion, she loves having a stylist. She asked me if belts are still in style. As for feeling in her element when she attended Fashion Week earlier this year, she said "heck no!," which was rather charming coming from someone who looks like she could step onto a runway. In other Gulbis gossip: she and ex Ben Roethlisberger are on good terms and Natalie is single. Try not to drool. Read more about my shopping excursion with Natalie and see a video clip at www.twincities.com.
Get ready for a preppy infusion: Lacoste is set to open at Mall Of America on July 10. If you haven’t shopped the brand since the days when it was cool to wear tube socks with cut offs, you’re in for sticker shock: the alligator is a lot more sophisticated second time around. Should be a nice addition for MOA, where the designer options are still rather limited beyond the department stores. Also opening at the mall in July: Ruehl No. 925, Abercrombie’s answer for post-grads and the Twin Cities’ first Levis shop.
Shoppes of Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove has become the place local stores go to die. One of the very few remaining, Pamper Me Pets recently bit the dust. Now it’s just a very small handful, like Shoesters, Goodthings and Hot Mama (a growing chain in its own right) amid all the national chain stores. I remember touring the "lifestyle" center before it opened and hearing the developer promise that the outdoor atmosphere wouldn’t be the only factor to differentiate Arbor Lakes from traditional malls. It was to feature a mix of national chains and local boutiques. The reality is, most independent retailers just can’t pay the rent next door to a Pottery Barn or Gap. There are occasional signs of hope in that sea of parking lots and strip centers, like the opening of Edelweiss Baby. Then again, it replaces Hey Diddle Diddle, another Maple Grove baby shop that couldn’t make it. Are Maple Grove shoppers really so content with the same ol’ chains? You get the feeling driving down Elm Creek Blvd. that you could be in any sprawling suburb in America. There’s nothing to make all that retail space distinct. Too bad developers don’t realize that size isn’t all that matters.
On maternity leave (officially, anyway) for the summer, I imagined lots of pool time. What I hadn’t factored in was the smushy state of my midsection three month after batting out Boy No. 2. A tankini would be nice for a bit more coverage and comfort while swimming with a toddler, but then there’s the state of the boobs, which require some sort of underwire treatment. Good luck finding a tankini with underwire in stores. It’s the dumbest thing – these suits with extra coverage are really designed to fit women who probably don’t need it. I’m glad I complained about this on my radio show, "Shop Girls," because a listener called in and suggested Athleta.com, a great website where you can buy swimwear by cup size – tankinis and all. Brilliant!
Martin + Osa has always impressed me more for the store design and attention to details (no, you’re not just imagining that woodsy fragrance) than the merchandise. Yes, Martin + Osa – right here at the MOA, just a couple doors down from the Gap on the second level. Perhaps its that big wood wall next to the entryway where most stores have windows that throws people, but I’m willing to bet a whole lot of shoppers don’t know Martin + Osa exists. I’m frankly surprised it still does. The chain is owned by American Eagle, and targets thirtysomethings who’ve graduated from cutoffs and tanks. That would be me, except every time I visit, I find the clothes pretty boring and pricey. Nothing I couldn’t find at J. Crew or Banana, except J. Crew and Banana offer more fashion and better sales. Still, desperate as I am for the perfect summer tees, I stopped in recently and did find a few items worth trying on. And here’s the key. Even if you have no intention of buying, try something on at this store. The fitting rooms are true escapes: large, with cabin-like wooden walls and a scenic view on the back wall so you can visualize yourself stepping into the perfectly neat, preppy life those khakis will offer. During my stay, I was given a full-size bottle of Fiji water, which made wriggling in and out of my shirt totally worth the hassle. Next time I’m thirsty and in need of a getaway, you’ll find me in the fitting rooms at Martin + Osa. Please knock.
Steve & Barry’s is desperately trying to capitalize on the "Sex and the City" movie frenzy by launching its own SATC t-shirt collection and new pieces for Sarah Jessica Parker’s Bitten line, which is exclusive to the retailer (all items priced at $9.98 or less). Since the initial Bitten blitz when I immediately bought three t-shirts and a hoodie – all of which I still wear – I’ve only stopped by Steve & Barry a couple of times and I’ve never felt compelled to buy more. My most recent visit this week was no exception. Bitten, which showed a flash of potential to do stylish pieces at unbelievably low prices, has become nothing more than cheap basics – khakis and t-shirts in solid colors and unsexy cuts. While the first group had some pieces that you could perhaps imagine SJP donning – at least for pr purposes – there’s nothing there now. No big surprise that the televised clips of SJP that play over and over in the store show her in a t-shirt from the original Bitten collection. I know, because I have the same one. One gets the impression that was the first and last time Ms. Parker took a look what Steve & Barry’s was actually doing.
Recently I asked one of the owners of Bluebird Boutique how she felt about the arrival of Bumbershute, which could be perceived as competition for the designer dollar. "Great," she said, and I’m inclined to believe her logic – "now her Wayzata customers have reason to shop at 50th and France. The more the merrier." Indeed, power in numbers was on the mind of Bumbershute owner Kathryn Paulsrud when she made the big move. She figured 50th is more of a regional draw. And becoming more so every day. Nani Nalu made the move from Ridgedale Center to 50th. Priscilla of Boston, like Monique Lhuillier, picked it for its first Twin Cities store. And the latest announcement: St. Paul destination boutique Stephanie’s will open a second store at 50th in August – the same month the Bluebird girls will debut their accessories store, Ladyslipper Boutique. 50th has always been a distinguished address, but lately, there’s an undeniable energy as the shopping district proves itself to be the destination for boutique shopping in the Twin Cities with a well rounded mix of styles and price points (plus great places to eat and drink). If you want to impress your out-of-town fashionista friends, there’s no question where to take them.