A caption for a photograph of
construction at Famous Barr in Wednesday’s newspaper
misidentified Robby Trimble, one of two carpenters from Woodworkers of Denver Inc.
John Porporis has traveled the country for 25 years opening Famous Barr stores. But since graduating from MU in 1976 and getting a job at Famous Barr’s parent, May Department Stores Co., he has always wanted to open one near his alma mater.
After years of waiting, the senior vice president of Famous Barr stores has finally gotten his wish. Columbia’s newest department store is set to open next month on the site of the former Biscayne Mall. Of the 42 Famous Barrs in the country, Columbia’s will be the only stand-alone store featuring what the May design team calls its lifestyle prototype.
Porporis visited the store and its merchandise team last week to make sure everything was running on schedule. While merchandise won’t begin arriving at the store for another two weeks, the team is working to lay out the store and decide where everything will go.
Until the arrival of merchandise, the store remains an empty shell. Silver clothing racks and glass jewelry cases last week stood empty amid their strewn packaging. The smell of tar from the freshly laid parking lot permeated the glass doors as workers laid tile in the entry foyer.
The May design team laid out the store so it is much more open, with wider aisles and walkways than most department stores. The prototype, filled with artwork and photographs to give it a modern feel, is the store of the future, Porporis said.
“We are a progressive retailer,” Porporis said. “We respond to today’s consumer and make the shopping experience more fun and easier.”
The Columbia store’s construction comes as the May company is closing 34 stores, including a Famous Barr in Iowa, and eliminating thousands of jobs across the country.
David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association, says stand-alone stores are a trend in the retail business. Like the new T.J. Maxx in Jefferson City that opened two months ago, Famous Barr hopes to draw customers looking for convenience.
“They are discovering that a lot of people want to purchase items where they can just get in and get out,” Overfelt said. “It’s a trend we’re seeing to back away from the malls.”
With the recent increase in the development of strip malls and stand-alone stores, Porporis thinks opening so close to the Columbia Mall is an advantage for the new Famous Barr. He welcomes the competition but thinks customers will be drawn to the stand-alone store. Overfelt agrees.
“It’s not a bad location when there are more choices nearby,” Overfelt said. “Now, for a lot of people passing through Missouri, there is another draw.”
Columbia’s Famous Barr — at 140,000 square feet — is much smaller than most stores the May company builds. Inside, the store is experimenting with bright colors and combinations of merchandising to appeal to the customer. Departments are being combined and colored-coded to catch the customer’s eye. The children’s department is carpeted in bright yellow, with matching colors on the walls. The juniors department combines both boys and girls clothing and is surrounded by speakers from its own sound system.
Sandy Flanigan, head of merchandising and visual, is proud of the lifestyle prototype but happy she gets to put her own touches on it. She’s collecting pieces by Missouri artists to display in the store. The shoe department, for example, will feature wall art by a Missouri glass-blower.
“They give you the house, and we put in the furniture,” Flanigan said of the May design team.
The team is also experimenting with an open fragrance counter and designer brands. The store will carry its own proprietary brand of tailored sportswear called “Ideology.” This is only the 11th Famous Barr to carry the brand.
“We believe in the Columbia marketplace and consumer,” Porporis said. “Columbia is a great community, and we think we will do well here.”
The new store is bringing 200 jobs to Columbia, including 13 management positions that are already filled. Sue Johnson, who is transferring from the Joplin Famous Barr, will be general manager here. The bulk of the sales associate positions are already filled. During the holiday season, the store expects to hire another 100 people.
“The response to work here has been overwhelming,” Porporis said.