Viacom Entertainment Store Previews New Mall Shops Chicago's Magnificent Mile of retail shops has added a new gem to its collection with the Viacom Entertainment Store. Featuring products, memorabilia and attractions based on Viacom's most successful brands -- Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, MTV, VH-1, Paramount Pictures and "Star Trek" -- the company is considering New York and San Francisco as possible future sites for the 30,000 sq. ft. store.

According to Marc Salvatore, vice president of operations for Viacom Retail Group, a division of Dallas-based Blockbuster Entertainment, the two-level Michigan Avenue store fulfills a corporate vision to place Viacom brands into an upscale store setting.

FRCH Design Worldwide, New York,architect for Viacom EntertainmentStore, created flexible retailinteriors at the MichiganAvenue flagship. The firstNickelodeon "spin-off" shop isslated to open at Mall ofAmerica this fall.

"Viacom has never gone into any kind of retailing before," Salvatore says. "It was [Viacom chairman and chief executive officer] Sumner Redstone's dream to try and take some of our incredibly popular brands and put them under one roof."

The store is part retail, part museum, part cafe and part concert venue. It features exclusive merchandise and displays (the original chariot from "The Ten Commandments" and the bench from "Forest Gump"); museum-quality artifacts and memorabilia (the model spacecraft used in the making of the "Star Trek" movies); and live entertainment and interactive activities (a photo opportunity with Beavis and Butt-head). The store also features a 70-seat cafe called "Station Break."

Salvatore says the North Michigan Avenue store represents a hint at the shape of other stores to come. "Our main focus right now is taking pieces of this concept store and putting it into small specialty stores," says Salvatore. Nickelodeon, he adds, will be the first brand to branch off, with 20 stores slated to open in 1998. "We're going forward with probably four to five stores with Nickelodeon [in the short term], and we have already signed a lease at Mall of America for a 6,000 sq. ft. store," he says.

Salvatore notes that, while Nickelodeon was a fairly obvious choice for a store "spin-off," other Viacom brands could logically break out on their own as well. "With the popularity of Nickelodeon, we knew that a freestanding Nickelodeon store would be an absolute hit," he says. "But our 'Star Trek' business has been absolutely overwhelming, and we think there is an opportunity there [for a future store concept].

"I think people are looking for something different in their overall shopping experience," continues Salvatore. "[The Michigan Avenue store] is like a laboratory for us. Seventy-five percent of our product is exclusive product, and we're finding some amazing success stories there."

Salvatore says official store plans for Viacom's "Star Trek" and "Nick at Nite" concepts have not been finalized, since the Chicago store has only been open since Memorial Day weekend. Viacom, he says, is in negotiations with major centers for the next few Nickelodeon stores, but no announcements have been made.

Contact: Marc Salvatore, vice president of operations, Viacom Retail Group, 1201 Elm St., 22nd Floor, Dallas, Texas 75204; (800) 224-2677.

Earthsake Spotlights Planet-friendly Retail For specialty retailer Earthsake, Earth Day is a year-round celebration. The Berkeley, Calif.-based retailer of environmentally safe merchandise is embarking on a slow but steady expansion plan that will bring the retailer to between 24 and 30 units by the end of 2002.

For founder, president and chief executive officer Paul Hirschberger, the Earthsake concept was borne in 1990 during Earth Day's 20th anniversary. After extensive industry research, Hirschberger and wife Elly Katz learned that earth-friendly home products, although widely publicized, were fairly difficult to come by.

"There was a tremendous amount of information about [ecologically safe] retail products becoming available, but it was really difficult to get your hands on them," he says. "The only place we saw these types of products was in catalogs."

Earthsake's earth-sensitive product line -- including water- and energy-saving devices, environmentally safe cleaning solutions, low-toxicity paints, organic cotton apparel, and non-toxic pet supplies -- can now be found at five retail locations. In July, the retailer opened at Town Center Corte Madera in Corte Madera, Calif.

According to Hirschberger, Earthsake will move into its first enclosed mall location (at Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara, Calif.) this fall. "As we expand, we'll probably be 50/50 between shopping centers and freestanding sites," he notes.

"I understand now, after opening up the [Town Center] store and looking to the next one, why retailers go into shopping centers," he explains. "You can measure your clientele -- who the people are, and how many people come by. And you know there will be parking and various amenities."

Hirschberger notes that many of today's shoppers enjoying browsing freestanding locations, where stores are part of tightly-knit neighborhoods. "But that isn't the reality of the current real estate market," he adds. "There are many wonderful shopping centers, and that's what we would look for. We'd look for the really special ones."

According to Hirschberger, Earthsake's next possible areas of expansion, aside from additional California sites, are the Pacific Northwest, Boston and New York.

Contact: Paul Hirschberger, president and chief executive officer, Earthsake, 1817 Second St., Berkeley, Calif. 94710; (510) 848-5023.

Macy's Calls 'All-aboard' For The Vision Express For Phoenix-based Macy's Vision Express -- a new optical concept designed for Federated's stalwart department store division -- finding good locations is as easy as walking into a department store. With a 2,200 sq. ft. flagship location open at Macy's Herald Square, and with two other shops planned by the end of 1997, Macy's Vision Express could easily realize its plan of 50 units within the next three years.

According to Alan Singer, creator and chief executive officer of Macy's Vision Express (and former president of Singer Specs, a Berwyn, Pa.-based optical chain), the new concept benefits from established foot traffic and a respected name. "When [Singer Specs] would open in a strip center, we had traffic, but we had to create the name of our chain in the customers' eyes through advertising and signage," he says. "Macy's is spending millions and millions of dollars per year bringing its customers through. We get to capitalize on that."

As a way to increase the connection between the optical concept and its Macy's home, Vision Express will accept the Macy's charge card and will be open seven days per week. Singer notes that the Vision Express stores will "capitalize on the impulse shopper" by offering customers a full-service optical laboratory, with designer brands and one-hour service of both glasses and contact lenses.

Macy's Vision Express will be entirely franchise-driven, with the Herald Square location serving as a sole company-owned and operated store. "We are the licensee, and we have the exclusive expansion right to all stores that will put in optical," Singer says. "By using franchisees, it gives us the right to pick and choose, and get the best operators and the best locations, and then open for business."

Singer reports that he is in discussion with other non-Federated department stores for similar optical concepts, but no formal agreements have been made. He also says Macy's Vision Express will concentrate initially on East Coast locations and move westward once a foothold has been established.

Contact: Angel Trombetta, director of operations, Macy's Vision Express, 1219 East Granite View Dr., Phoenix, Ariz. 85048; (602) 460-4401.