WESTFIELD, NJ — The online fashion rental brand Le Tote intends to close on its purchase of Lord & Taylor by the start of the holiday season, and beginning in 2021 may reassess the retailer’s network of stores, the company’s announcement said.
What this means for Westfield’s expansive Lord & Taylor on property owned by the municipality’s largest taxpayer, Hudson’s Bay Company, municipal officials and business leaders could only begin to consider this week.
Mayor Shelley Brindle said she has not spoken with leaders at Le Tote but is optimistic, based on her conversations with top executives at Hudson’s Bay Company and Lord & Taylor.
“The 2021 time frame allows a lot of runway to see if there is the opportunity for a better, higher use for that property that might benefit the town,” Brindle said.
The joint statement from Le Tote and Lord & Taylor last month said HBC may be “recapturing select locations to determine their highest and best use, including possible redevelopment into mixed-use properties with a variety of services, experiences and retail offerings.”
Voters elected Brindle in 2017 on a pro-business platform, and the possible changes slated for 2021 would come in the same year Brindle’s mayoral term is set to expire. Brindle said she is confident, based on her conversations with Hudson’s Bay Company, the property owner, and Lord & Taylor that the companies will remain a beneficial partner for the municipality.
“They are very committed to being partners with us,” Brindle said. “They don’t want to just come in and say ‘this is what we’re doing.’”
Requests to Le Tote and Hudson’s Bay Company seeking comment beyond last month’s media statement were not returned this week.
Courtenay Mercer, the executive director of Downtown New Jersey, which represents downtown business districts statewide, noted that the department’s store’s Westfield location is among the largest of its New Jersey stores. It is 150,000 square feet.
“The space would probably be too big for what they’re thinking about,” Mercer said. “But I would think and hope they would be able to subdivide the space and, hopefully, Le Tote could be one of multiple tenants there.”
The Le Tote takeover encapsulates what’s happening in retail these days, she said.
“It is emblematic of what is going on in retail right now,” Mercer said. “It is shifting largely to online sales, but they still want the brick and mortar places.”
Brindle noted that Hudson’s Bay Company, which pays around $500,000 in property taxes annually to Westfield, also owns the two parking lots across from the Lord & Taylor store.
“We need to lean into that transformation and help drive it in a way that benefits us,” she said. “And that holds for all of the downtown. You can’t hide in the way things used to be.”
Kathleen Miller Prunty, the recently appointed interim executive director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation, the government entity managing the business district in which Lord & Taylor sits, said Le Tote’s model of renting clothing is not without precedent when one considers that men have been renting tuxedos for years.
“It’s like anything else, retail or otherwise,” Miller Prunty said. “Times change. … This is just yet another example of retailers who are working really hard to stay competitive.”
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