Bullocks Wilshire, the stately, 70-year-old specialty fashion chain with the landmark Art Deco flagship store in Los Angeles' Mid-Wilshire district, will be renamed I. Magnin on Feb. 1, owner R. H. Macy & Co. said Wednesday.
In addition, the 1928 Bullocks Wilshire building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, will undergo a multimillion-dollar restoration beginning next spring. The store will be known as I. Magnin/Wilshire.
Macy's, which bought I. Magnin and Bullocks Wilshire along with the Bullock's department stores in May, 1988, emphasized in a prepared statement that the Bullock's name "will not be changed, nor is there any intent to do so in the future." In the past, the big New York retailer has put the Macy's moniker on other regional chains it has purchased in the Northeast and Southeast.
Macy's also said it plans to sell the Bullock's headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles and convert the I. Magnin store near the main Bullocks Wilshire to office space to house Bullock's corporate employees. All employees of that I. Magnin store will be offered positions at other I. Magnin locations, the company said.
Rose Marie Bravo, the 38-year-old chairman and chief executive of I. Magnin and Bullocks Wilshire, said in a telephone interview that the name change was logical from a marketing point of view. "It just strengthens us," she said.
She noted that about 85% of the merchandise bought for Magnin and Bullocks Wilshire is identical, up from perhaps 60% when the chains were part of Federated Department Stores. Although the stores both cater to upscale clientele, Bullocks Wilshire customers have traditionally been older and less trendy than I. Magnin's.
Soon after Macy's bought the chains, it put them under the same San Francisco-based management team. Industry sources say Magnin and Bullocks Wilshire have combined annual sales of more than $400 million.
"We have been really streamlining and trying to get the best of what both franchises have to offer," Bravo said. For example, she noted that the Magnin team admired Bullocks Wilshire's strong men's business and began incorporating those merchandising techniques at I. Magnin stores.
Similarly, Bullocks Wilshire opened a boutique featuring Yves St. Laurent's Rive Gauche clothing for women because of I. Magnin's success with that line.
Bravo said the company has had good luck with contemporary fashions at Bullocks Wilshire that "are not something you would normally think of as (appealing to) the core patrons at Wilshire."
"The more contemporary, the more advanced, the better we did with it at Wilshire," she said. "That gave us confidence that there was more alike in these two companies."
Importance of Name
Actually, Bullock's and Magnin have been closely linked since 1944, when Bullock's acquired the highly regarded fashion chain. Magnin operated as a subsidiary or a division until 1964, the year Bullock's was merged into Federated Department Stores. Later, Magnin was made a separate division of Federated.
Bravo speculated that a name change will have little effect on customers.
"People come to a store because they love the store, they love the people and the merchandise," she said.
Carol Farmer, a retail consultant in Boca Raton, Fla., agreed that the name has less to do with a store's success than some might think.
"They can name it Who Tied the Pup or Genghis Khan Emporium if they merchandise it beautifully," she said.
Retail industry observers had speculated that a name change might be in the offing for Bullocks Wilshire. Since last spring, the two upscale specialty fashion stores have been doing some joint newspaper advertising.
With 23 stores, I. Magnin is better known nationally than Bullocks Wilshire, which has only seven stores, all in Southern California.
I. Magnin, founded in San Francisco in 1876 by Mary Ann and Isaac Magnin, has 17 stores in California, three in Chicago, one in Washington, one in Seattle and one in Phoenix.
Allen I. Questrom, former chairman of Bullock's and Bullocks Wilshire and now president and chief executive of Neiman Marcus in Dallas, said Wednesday that he thinks the name change "is a good idea. There has always been somewhat of a confusion between Bullocks Wilshire and Bullock's. . . . It makes sense from the point of view of clarity" both for customers and for Macy's.
Fears of Change
But at the flagship store, the planned name change drew mixed reviews from noon-hour customers resting on benches at the main entrance off the parking lot.
"Please don't do this to me," said Sophie Schiller, a Beverly Hills resident who has driven often to the main Bullocks Wilshire store over the last 35 years. "I really don't like I. Magnin because they don't have anything for people over 50."
Madelyn Keith of Los Angeles feared that the Bullocks Wilshire stores would change. "I'd rather have Bullocks Wilshire. I hate to see that. It won't be the same."
But Frank Sorkin, shopping for perfume with his wife, was more sanguine. "It's just one name replacing another," he said.
Times researcher Melanie Pickett contributed to this story.