Saks Fifth Avenue, which helped transform King Street from a rundown corridor to a bustling upscale retail district, plans to close by mid-July.
Viewed as the anchor tenant of the shopping stretch, the luxury department store will step aside for a trendy discount clothier. Forever 21 plans to open in the 33,000-square-foot space at the corner of Market Street by year's end.
What: Discount trendy clothing
Where: Saks Fifth Avenue location at King and Market streets downtown Charleston
When: Saks closes by July 17; Forever 21 opens by year's end
Brands: Twelve by Twelve (couture-like line), Heritage 1981 (lifestyle brand for women), 21MEN (men's fashion), Love 21 (contemporary women's clothing) and HTG81 (children's line for girls and boys ages 6 to 14)
Background: Los Angeles-based company with more than 480 stores across the country, plus operations in Canada, Puerto Rico, Korea and Japan.
Saks Chairman and Chief Executive Steve Sadove said the decision comes after evaluating profitability and potential of the local operation, which opened in 1996.
"The planned closing of our Charleston store is consistent with our focus of utilizing our resources in our most productive stores," Sadove said in a written statement.
Shopping inside Saks on Monday morning, Charlotte resident Debbie Linton called the store one of "only a few shops for the mid-life woman" and a draw to Charleston. When she learned Forever 21 was taking over the spot, she grimaced.
"Ugh. It's all about the young people," she said.
The 60 local Saks employees will be offered transfer opportunities or severance packages, according to the company. New York-based Saks operates 53 stores nationwide and previously announced that it plans to close its Portland, Ore., and San Diego stores in July.
Saks spokeswoman Julia Bentley said the King Street location will start its clearance sale shortly and continue until it closes by July 17.
The company's lease on King runs through 2026, according to Erin Hopkins, marketing manager for The Beach Co., which developed the site for Saks. She said the contract allows another business to assume the lease and that the new operation requires minimal changes to the building.
Los Angeles-based Forever 21 brings with it five brands, including women's, men's and children's clothing lines. Forever 21 Executive Vice President Larry Meyer said the company expects to create as many as 150 local jobs.
"We are very pleased to have the opportunity to expand our business into Charleston and offer the latest fashion to the local community," Meyer said in a written statement. Forever 21 operates 480 stores across the country, plus locations in Canada, Puerto Rico, Korea and Japan.
When Saks opened nearly 15 years ago, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley described it as achieving "almost an impossible dream" of attracting a department store. He said King Street continues to draw high-end businesses but that Forever 21, as a different style of department store, diversifies the shopping experience.
"King Street, since Saks came here, has become the most amazing and successful retail street in the Southeast and really is up there with New York, Chicago and San Francisco's retail districts," Riley said. "I think what Forever 21 does is bring younger shoppers. I think it has wide appeal to the metro area which, of course, is what our main street is all about. It's not just a place for our visitors, but a place where residents of the region can come."
Ellen Berlin, owner of Berlins for Women and fourth-generation clothier, considered Saks a direct competitor since both attracted so-called resort customers -- travelers who make repeat visits to select retail stores during their stay. Based on some of Saks' inventory decisions, Berlin said the store's closing came with little surprise.
"I'm shocked about the new tenant. That's for sure," she said. She wondered aloud how Forever 21 would work in a lineup that includes antique stores on one side and Louis Vuitton on the other but decided it could be an opportunity for retailers appealing to the same shopper demographic.
"It leaves more money on King Street," she said. "Those dollars will go somewhere else, and hopefully spread around to local merchants."
Susan Lucas, who heads up King Street Marketing Group, said she thought Forever 21 would move in closer to Urban Outfitters and other similar operations up the street but added that "maybe lower King Street needs someone to fill in the gaps there."
"It's a little lower-end than Saks," she said. "But everything is a little lower-end than Saks."
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or abird@postand courier.com. Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524 or firstname.lastname@example.org.