Joslins at Park Meadows proves that a heart of glass can sometimes be a department store's brightest asset.

The notion of fronting a store with a three-story, sun-exposed wall of clear glass might strike some retailers as foolhardy. Heat, light and glare could easily detract from sales and cause an unnecessary burden on energy usage. Nevertheless, David Nichols, chief executive officer for Fairfield, Ohio-based Mercantile Stores Co. Inc., decided the new Joslins department store at Park Meadows in Denver called for just such a risk.

Whereas most Joslins stores feature rounded glass rooms nearly 50-ft. in diameter, the 211,407 sq.ft. Denver store has a 250-ft.-wide, clear wall of glass frontage. The 10,000 sq. ft. window bathes the store's interior in natural light and gives customers a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains. An indoor waterfall links the space with its natural setting.

"We had designed large, glassed-in rooms at the entrances to other Mercantile stores," recounts project architect Bob Rich, a principal with Cincinnati-based Baxter Hodell Donnelly Preston Inc. "But Dave Nichols suggested maybe we shouldn't be so timid; [he asked] 'Why not open up the entire front of the store.'"

The front of the store serves as an elaborate entrance court. The area, which the architect describes as an atrium, houses the escalators, elevators, coffee shop and, on the second level, an in-store spa.

The glass front has distinct marketing advantages, says Rich. From the parking lot, the view of the store's interior entices mall patrons. It also conveys an immediate sense of the store's layout, making it easier for shoppers to orient themselves. At night, the interior lighting that shines through the glass front (along with its exterior accent lighting) turns Joslins into a highly visible landmark for shoppers.

As for potential disadvantages, the design team and store merchandisers took steps to minimize problems. Although the glass appears fully transparent, a frit pattern was painted on with ceramic paint to deflect the sun's rays. As additional protection, the selling area is set back from the entrance, behind a partial interior wall, allowing natural light to enter the space without shining directly on the merchandise.

"[The glass walls] have become a Mercantile signature," Rich says. "New customers are inspired to come into the store for the first time, and established customers enjoy coming back."

Although glass fronts will remain part of Joslins everywhere, Rich notes that the Park Meadows design will not translate as logically to other locations. "Without the Rockies as background, the whole point of the expansiveness would be lost," he says. "Most situations call for a more modest approach."