By Randy Tucker
and Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Federated Department Stores said Friday that it would close the Lazarus/Macy's store in downtown Columbus - one of three remaining center-city locations for the regional chain, including stores in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Demographic shifts away from central Columbus, increased competition from suburban retailers and the inefficiency of operating a "mammoth downtown store'' with more than 300,000 square feet of retail space led to the closing of the chain's original location, Federated spokeswoman Ellen Fructman said.
"We just felt we couldn't make it work in downtown Columbus in the long term,'' she said.
The downtown store in Cincinnati faces many of the same challenges as the one in Columbus. But Federated officials, who have acknowledged the downtown Cincinnati store is one of their least profitable operations, would not elaborate on the outlook for that store, just blocks away from the company's headquarters.
"Each store is evaluated on a case-by-case basis,'' Fructman said.
Lazarus signed a 20-year lease for the Fountain Place store in January 1996, but it allows the retailer to opt out once every five years.
If the retailer exercised that option, it would deal a devastating blow to downtown, boosters say.
"The Lazarus store in downtown Cincinnati is very important," said David Ginsburg, who heads Downtown Cincinnati Inc., a marketing and services group funded by downtown property owners. "It provides great service to the workers and residents downtown."
The downtown Columbus store, which opened more than 95 years ago as Lazarus before it was recently renamed, will close in August, Fructman said.
There are seven other full-line Lazarus-Macy's department stores in the Columbus area, along with two furniture galleries.
"Our Columbus roots are strong and we remain firmly committed to this market, but the reality is that sales in the downtown store have fallen by more than 60 percent since 1995," David L. Nichols, president of the company's Rich's/Lazarus/Goldsmith-Macy's division in Atlanta, said in a written statement.
The general manager of the Columbus City Center mall, where the store is located, released a statement Friday that said, "Lazarus has commitments to us that extend until 2009 and we expect them to adhere to them."
Mall management declined to comment further.
The store opened in 1909 with 933,000 square feet of space. That was reduced to 371,500 square feet in 1998.
Lazarus-Macy's is the third department store in the Columbus City Center to close in recent years. Jacobson's closed in January 2002 and Marshall Field's sold its space to Kaufmann's in March when the Minneapolis-based retailer closed both its Columbus stores.
The closing comes as Mayor Michael Coleman continues to promote his downtown development plan, encouraging more residents to live downtown.
Cincinnati-based Federated operates about 450 stores in 34 states, Guam and Puerto Rico under the names Macy's, Bloomingdale's, The Bon/Macy's, Burdines, Goldsmith's/Macy's, Lazarus/Macy's and Rich's/Macy's.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
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