Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom prepare to land in Puerto Rico

By Mar Gonzalo

San Juan, Mar 24 (EFE).- Just two days before the official opening of their first-ever department stores in Puerto Rico, the famous U.S. retail chains Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom are putting the finishing touches on what will be their coming ashore on the Caribbean island.

Both department stores are the flagships of Puerto Rico's first luxury shopping mall, according to the management of the Mall of San Juan, which will open its doors this Thursday bent on attracting the island's most upscale clientele, who currently travel to Florida or New York to make their deluxe purchases.

"It's our first establishment outside the U.S. and Canada, and also our first venture in the Spanish-speaking world, though not in an island market because we do business in Hawaii," Nordstrom's Brooke White told Efe.

White, Nordstrom's vice president of corporate communications, now has the added responsibility of supervising the debut of the new 100,000-sq. foot (9,300-sq. meter) department store with its staff of 642 employees.

With workers polishing off the last details and employees stocking Nordstrom's 119th establishment with must-have merchandise, the department store is almost ready to open its doors to a new consumer group to which it is making every effort to adapt.

"We know the Puerto Rican woman tends to dress up more and pays more attention to her beauty. That's why we have so many designer fashions, fun accessories, very lively colors in general, and fine lines of cosmetics," she said.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, which will be the 39th in the chain, preparations are being completed to attract consumers with considerable purchasing power.

"We're in the luxury segment, something new in Puerto Rico," Susset Reyes, general manager of Saks in San Juan, told Efe, adding that she's not afraid of the crisis that has hammered the island for years.

In that regard, the one-time general manager of JCPenny in San Juan said very positively that "there is money in Puerto Rico" and that the high-end market is what she is out to win with this store measuring 138,000 sq. feet (13,000 sq. meters), with 122 employees, all Puerto Ricans, and 340 stylish mannequins.

Saks' investment in Puerto Rico signifies a vote of confidence in the down-and-almost-out local economy.

Despite the ongoing recession and a jobless rate twice that of any U.S. state, everyone knows there are also large fortunes in Puerto Rico that can well afford establishments like these.

"There are very many Puerto Ricans who travel to Miami and New York to buy from Saks there. Now they'll have it all much closer," Reyes said.

On the other hand, the people at Nordstrom - which has invested some $63 million here - are more cautious, and as its general manager in San Juan, Manolo Gonzalez, told Efe, "We're aware of the crisis, though we have confidence in what we have to offer, and we're adapting our offer to the customers we're likely to attract."

"Our merchandise mostly targets the upper middle class, to whom we offer from medium-priced brands to exclusive designer fashions," he said.

The two firms are the main attractions of the Mall of San Juan, the first shopping mall of Taubman Centers in Puerto Rico, and which, after an investment of $475 million and with more than 100 stores and restaurants, seeks to become "the chief shopping destination for upscale goods in the Caribbean," according to Simon J. Leopold, senior vice president of Taubman.