Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mall owner sues to stop Belk store

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Sorry, Belk fans. You just thought you were shopping at a nice department store.

A Belk store isn't classy enough for the owners of an upscale, open-air mall that fashions itself as a destination shopping center near some of Alabama's priciest neighborhoods in surburban Birmingham. The owners have filed suit trying to block plans to replace a Parisian store with a Belk at The Summit shopping center.

The suit by Bayer Retail Co., filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, says Belk operates moderate-price department stores that would not fit the "first-class retail shopping center" image of The Summit.

The suit came after Birmingham-based Saks Inc. announced it was selling the Parisian chain to Belk Inc. in a $285 million deal, and Belk said all Parisian stores, including the three in Birmingham, would be renamed and converted to carry Belk merchandise.

Converting the Parisian to a Belk would "impact Bayer's ability to attract and keep first-class retail tenants at The Summit" and would tarnish the center's image as a shopping destination, says the suit, filed Aug. 24.

The defendants, Parisian Stores Inc.; its Alabama holding company, Carson Pirie Scott; Saks Inc., and Belk Inc., have not responded to the lawsuit.

Steve Pernotto, Belk's executive vice president of human resources, said the company plans to invest a significant sum on the Summit store and to expand it. The store will carry top brands sold at the chain's flagship store at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, N.C., he said.

"Where it makes sense to merchandise to a particular customer, that's what we do," Pernotto told The Birmingham News in a story Friday.

Libby Lassiter, Bayer's executive vice president of development and leasing, said Bayer held talks with Belk after the chain said it was buying Parisian. Bayer representatives also visited the chain's SouthPark Mall store.

"We have options and rights and we want an upscale fashion merchandiser" in the space, she said.

Parisian has been one of the center's anchors since 1997. Other retailers at The Summit include Saks Fifth Avenue, Harold's and Anthropologie.

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