Somerset to nearly double the size of CityLoft downtown

Posted on August 17, 2011

Somerset Collection is nearly doubling its upscale retail presence in Detroit starting next week, following the success last month of its pilot downtown boutique.

Somerset Collection CityLoft will open a second boutique next door to its pop-up shop collection, marking the first step toward a possible longer-term major retail presence downtown, something Detroit has been missing since the Hudson’s department store left the city in 1983.

In late July, the 4,000-square-foot space with 41 kiosks featuring retailers including Neiman Marcus, The North Face and Henri Bendel was crowded with shoppers who sometimes had to stand in line outside.

“It showed what could be done with an aggregation of stores downtown on Woodward near Campus Martius and what could be possible from a retail perspective,” said Nathan Forbes, managing partner of the Forbes Co., which owns and manages Troy-based Somerset Collection.

Forbes Co. committed to opening the boutique the final Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each month through September. A longer-term commitment to downtown Detroit is possible, Forbes said, depending on the success of the August and September weekends and the willingness of retailers to participate.

“We’re really taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.

Forbes said the space in the Lofts at Merchants Row at the corner of Grand River and Woodward was originally meant for just 20 retailers. Many of them later said they wanted more space for storage, inventory and cash registers, he said.

Now Southfield-based Forbes Co. is adding a 3,100-square-foot site next door where Studio Couture gallery stands. The original site cost $500,000 to develop, with sponsorships from Detroit-based online mortgage company Quicken Loans Inc., Cadillac and Bank of America. Forbes said he didn’t know how much the new project will cost.

The original space will feature women’s clothing, accessories and cosmetics, while the newer spot will sell menswear and home decor.

The two spaces will house roughly the same number of merchants as the original location, which means the retailers can carry a deeper assortment of merchandise and shoppers will have more room to browse, Forbes said.

The August lineup hasn’t been finalized but will include newcomers Lily Pulitzer and Paradise Pen, which sells high-end fountain pens.

Some of the original retailers won’t return when the boutique opens Aug. 25 through Aug. 27, though “most of them were very excited about continuing on,” Forbes said.

The project debuted with few expectations and no sales goals, but “the sales generated were excellent,” Forbes said. Final sales figures are still being accumulated, he said.

The “neighborhood atmosphere” drew Detroit’s workers and residents, including many who are not familiar with Somerset Collection, Forbes said. Retailers such as Henri Bendel and Kate Spade “received so many customers who didn’t know they had stores in Michigan.”

Retailers will offer a gift with every purchase. For every $100 spent, shoppers will receive a $10 gift card to be used at Somerset’s Troy or Detroit locations.

The project is a sign that there’s a strong retail market in Detroit, said Robin Boyle, a professor of urban planning at Wayne State University.

By Jaclyn Trop, The Detroit News