Flagship Filene's life gets extended
Store to remain open to sell selected items from closed locations
By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff | April 19, 2006
The flagship Filene's in Downtown Crossing will stay open for several months longer than expected, selling fine jewelry, furs, and rugs that have been unloaded from other department stores.
Macy's owner, Federated Department Stores Inc., is using the Boston site to sell merchandise mainly from stores it is closing as part of its $17 billion takeover last year of Filene's and other regional chains. Earlier this year, the company said it planned to shutter nearly 80 stores this spring and convert the remaining regional chains into Macy's by the fall.
''In the case of Boston, we wanted to make productive use of the space through the divestiture process as a way to support retail traffic in the downtown business district," said Jim Sluzewski, a Federated spokesman. ''This benefits all retailers in the area, including the Macy's store across the street."
The new merchandise at Downtown Crossing will continue to be discounted, but not at the 60 to 80 percent sales currently being offered.
City officials are pleased with the plan, saying it is important to keep the area inside and outside the store active for as long as possible. The Downtown Crossing retail district is struggling as it confronts one of the most dramatic changes in decades.
The closing of the historic Filene's building is looming as Vornado Realty Trust finalizes its deal to purchase the complex, which occupies an entire city block.
Vornado executives met yesterday for the second time in two weeks with city officials, talking about their initial plans, which could include multiple levels of retail space, possibly a supermarket, along with a residential tower.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino has expressed interest in also having a hotel on the property and support for anchor stores such as the popular discounter Target.
Meanwhile, the Boston Landmarks Commission is expected to rule early next month whether to declare the entire block along Washington Street between Summer and Franklin streets as a protected area. Designation as a landmark could complicate Vornado's plans for building, demolition, or remodeling.
Vornado's senior vice president, Rockie Gajwani, said, ''We're very early in the project" and declined to comment further after attending a forum yesterday on the city's Downtown Crossing Economic Improvement Initiatives.
At the meeting, Menino called on businesses to commit more than $350,000 to help spruce up the Downtown Crossing shopping district. The city has earmarked about $500,000 in public funds to enhance the area, but has only raised about $90,000 of its target $450,000 in private money.
''Now it's time to step up to the plate," Menino said.
Officials from the Boston Redevelopment Authority laid out short- and long-term plans for the district that include new bathrooms, police patrolling the area on horses, and better signs for stores like Filene's Basement, a separate company that has a long-term lease on the lower levels in the Filene's building.
Aside from physical improvements, city officials are planning to hire consultants this summer to develop a marketing campaign and determine the viability of Downtown Crossing as a pedestrian mall. Delivery trucks compete with pedestrians for space on the streets because there are no alleys for merchants to receive packages.
''A lot of cities are abandoning pedestrian malls, and we need to figure out if it can still work successfully in Boston," said Randi Lathrop, the BRA's deputy director of community planning. ''We need to come up with something. Right now cars are going down there all the time even though it's supposed to be a pedestrian mall."