Vuitton Adds To Towson's High-end Shopping

July 09, 2009|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Andrea.walker@baltsun.com

They sit encased in glass or displayed on anigre wood shelves like precious goods.

There's the $895 black patent leather clutch with LV monogrammed in gold on the clasp. Then there's the classic dome-shaped purse that is part of the Speedy collection, first made for Audrey Hepburn years ago. And for those who really want to splurge there is the Rider Orange, an orange-colored canvas bag trimmed in leather that has the name of Louis Vuitton stores on it. It costs $1,940.

Welcome to the new Louis Vuitton store at Towson Town Center mall.

The luxury goods store quietly opened Wednesday with no celebration or ribbon-cutting.

But what the low-key affair lacked in pomp, it made up for in the larger symbolic meaning of its opening.

After years of historically blue-collar Baltimore being bypassed by high-end retailers, even as its demographics became wealthier, the area is finally getting a larger concentration of upscale stores.

Towson Town Center opened a Nordstrom in 1992 and there are some upscale independent boutiques throughout the area, though little else had opened since. Saks Fifth Avenue closed its store at Owings Mills Mall in 1995.

Louis Vuitton joins Lacoste and Burberry at Towson Town Center. Christian Audigier, creator of the Ed Hardy line, also plans to open a store at the mall this year, while another upscale retailer will announce in the next month that it's moving in, said Jessica Bloom, senior marketing manager for the mall. The mall opened the luxury wing late last year.

The high-end stores are moving in during one of the country's worst economic periods on record. Many upscale retailers have watched overall sales plummet as consumers have cut back heavily on discretionary spending.

But at least one retail analyst thinks the market can support these stores and said too many area shoppers have been traveling to Washington, New York and other cities for luxury brands.

"I think that the market can afford the price points of Louis Vuitton," said Rene Daniel, principal at Trout Daniel & Associates, a Baltimore retail brokerage. "I think there are enough people in the Baltimore market to make it a successful operation."

Daniel Lalonde, president and CEO of Louis Vuitton North America, said via e-mail that the company has a long-term outlook on new stores.

"We recognized that we had a strong customer base in the Baltimore area who were shopping through other locations," he wrote. "The Baltimore store has been in planning long before the downturn in the economy."

The company has stores in Chevy Chase and at Tysons Corner mall in Northern Virginia.

General Growth Properties, owner of Towson Town Center, decided to open a luxury wing after an upscale retailer showed interest in the mall. The mall owner did studies that found that the surrounding demographics could support luxury stores. Bloom said that the luxury stores that have moved in so for have done well. Burberry added more children's products, including diaper bags, to better serve the number of families in the area. Burberry did not return calls yesterday.

The new Louis Vuitton store has a purse bar where customers can sit on leather stools and view the latest products. It sells everything from scarves, ties and briefcases to purses, luggage and wallets. There were no shoes. Two guards in black suits watch the store and greet customers. The service is top priority, with sales associates giving the history of products.

Vintage Louis Vuitton prints hang throughout the store. To the left of the entrance sits a vintage Louis Vuitton hatbox made in 1913. The LV initials on the box are hand-painted.

Mall officials said about a half-dozen people were waiting outside the store when it opened Wednesday. By noon there was a steady stream of people coming in and out. Some people came to window-shop, while others were ready to splurge.

A woman looking at a briefcase wasn't quite ready to make the purchase after seeing the price of more than $600. "My husband doesn't deserve that yet," she said.

But a man in a suit put a $650 purse on hold for a lucky woman. "This is definitely doable," he said.

Dee Bakare, a 30-year-old accountant who works down the street from Towson Town Center, came by the store to look for sandals, but discovered it didn't sell shoes. He said he'll be back and is glad there is a store now more convenient to him.

"Their stuff is unique," he said of Louis Vuitton. "That's why you pay the big bucks for it, because it's unique and different."

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