A luxury for C-Mart fans: high-end designer brands

October 13, 2005|By TANIKA WHITE | TANIKA WHITE,SUN REPORTER

Shopping at C-Mart, the local discounter known for designer deals on the cheap, is famously hit-or-miss.

An hour's rummage may turn up a fabulously high-end handbag, slightly irregular, or a beautiful couture dress with the labels removed. And that's considered a good day.

But starting tomorrow, and rolling out over the next several weeks until Thanksgiving, C-Mart promises to be no misses and all hits - and not really all that cheap.

Break out the credit cards, people. The mother lode of discount retail shopping has come to Joppatowne.

"We bought [inventory from] one of the most well-known, highly regarded, high-end department stores in the country," says C-Mart vice president Keith Silberg, who is the discount store's buyer. "We bought current goods, so what we're putting out today is the same things as what this very famous, high-end department store has on its floor right now. The difference is that it's half off."

That's half off such famous names as (take a deep breath):

Marc Jacobs, Prada, Burberry, Escada, Diane von Furstenberg, Gucci, Hermes, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Juicy Couture, Tracy Reese, Oscar de la Renta, Missoni, Manolo Blahnik, Michael Kors, Nanette Lepore, Elie Tahari, Laundry by Shelli Segal, BCBG Max Azria, Armani, Givenchy, Kate Spade, Narciso Rodriguez, David Yurman, Ferragamo, Lilly Pulitzer, Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo, Hugo Boss, and many more.

And it's not just a piece here, a piece there, catch as catch can.

"We're talking 20 trailer loads of merchandise," Silberg says.

With the labels on.

Local retail analysts who took a sneak peek at the brand names C-Mart is stocking could not stop gushing.

"There isn't any store in Baltimore that has this kind of merchandise. This is high-end, luxury merchandise," says Mark Millman, president of the Millman Search Group, a national retail and consulting firm based in Owings Mills. "Most people in this town wouldn't even recognize some of these names. People will drive over a hundred miles knowing that there's this level of merchandise at this price point. It doesn't get any better than this."

On its Web site (cmartdiscount.com), C-Mart has been advertising the luxury event - the biggest single purchase in the 30-year-old company's history - as "IT." As in: "Attention C-Mart shoppers! This. Is. It."

Customers who spied the details of "IT" online are preparing to get up as early as possible tomorrow morning and caravan to the 90,000-square-foot former K-Mart store, which shares strip mall space with a Curves spa, a dollar store, a sub shop and a nail salon.

Inside, the juxtaposition of merchandise is mind-boggling.

Racks of $3,000 Prada skirts across the aisle from overstocked Redken hair products? Halloween masks staring blank-eyed at half-off St. John Couture?

What parallel universe is this?

"This could be spectacular. I'm anxious!" says customer Andi Lewis of Stevenson, who once bought six designer handbags from C-Mart on a whim and is planning to outdo herself now that the store has gone upscale. "It's a good thing I have a very nice husband."

Silberg refused to say from which department store he acquired the 12,000 hanging pieces of clothing, more than 4,000 shoes and thousands of handbags, perfumes, sunglasses, scarves, belts and cosmetics, letting on only that the store is "a New York landmark."

Retail analyst Millman, however, noted that only three high-end department stores carry such big names - Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. He speculated that the goods might have come from the Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans, which has been shut since Hurricane Katrina ravaged that city.

"I don't know how they sourced it or how they got this," Millman says, and Saks, or any high-end retailer, for that matter, would never tell if the booty did come from them. "But it's a real coup. I hope they have a lot of security there."

Margie Klovens, a longtime C-Mart customer from Pikesville, also used the word "coup" when talking about her plans to descend like a woman on a mission on the newly upscale C-Mart.

"I'm sorry for whoever had to sell it to them," Klovens says. "But really, it's a coup. I'm sure I'll see at least a hundred people I know out there. It'll be crazy, but it'll be fun."

The half-off deal is not just a boon for luxury-minded customers on the prowl for a bargain. It's also exciting for C-Mart, which has never been able to offer such major labels in such quantities before, Silberg says.

"I grew up in this business, and I've seen it all," Silberg says. "This particular stock is so far beyond anything that we've ever done. Literally, even talking about it now, I have goose bumps."

tanika.white@baltsun.com

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