Gottschalks Executives Plan New Retail Venture

In What's New, People, Profiles by Accessories Staff

Fresno–Former executives of Gottschalks department stores said they intend to launch a new department store chain in “the image of the historic company” that was liquidated in bankruptcy last year.

The new chain will be led by Joe Levy, former chairman and chief executive of the original Gottschalks and great nephew of its founder, according to Robert Lawson, who a decade ago was Gottschalks’ chief financial officer.

Lawson said he is partnering with Levy in the enterprise and will serve as its chief financial officer. Levy will serve as chairman. Robert Wiser, a former vice president and general merchandise manager for the defunct Gottschalks, is the chief executive officer of the new company

The new store, to be called Gottschalk by Joe Levy Inc., will have its headquarters in the Fresno area.

“The object here is to bring the public what Gottschalks used to be,” Levy said in news reports yesterday. “We want to provide good customer service, high-quality fashions and merchandise at a very competitive price….Since Gottschalks closed, there’s a large void in that type of merchandising.” Levy said the new stores would emphasize men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, cosmetics and shoes, as well as housewares, small appliances and gifts. No furniture or mattresses will be included initially.

By November, the partners hope to open the first store in California’s Central Valley, Lawson says, adding that within two years he expects the chain will branch out and open more stores in areas of California that are underserved by other department stores.

Gottschalks closed its 59 stores last June after more than 100 years in the Central Valley.The chain had filed for bankruptcy in January 2009, after a $30 million financing deal with a Chinese firm failed. Gottschalks once had more than 70 stores, from Alaska to Southern California.

Filling a “Void” in Secondary Markets

Lawson said the new chain will follow Gottschalks’ strategy when he and Levy were at the helm, positioning the chain “in secondary markets in California because we could offer branded merchandise, such as name brand cosmetics, that they couldn’t get elsewhere.”

Lawson also indicated that good customer service will be a primary theme of the new store’s pitch central marketing since he says that is lacking in other value-prices department stores.

Despite the weak economy, Lawson said the partners want to take advantage of bargain leases on large amounts of empty retail space and federal, state and local economic stimulus programs available to assist with training and paying a new workforce. Other details and financing may be disclosed in a press conference scheduled today.

Lawson said the Gottschalk by Joe Levy department stores would be single story, ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 square feet, and located primarily in shopping centers.

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