Younkers in Duluth expands women's shoe department

Every day, customers compare Younkers expanded women's shoe department at the Miller Hill Mall to shoe departments in upscale Twin Cities department stores.

Fashionable shoes are on display at Younkers in Miller Hill Mall in Duluth. (Bob King /

Every day, customers compare Younkers expanded women's shoe department at the Miller Hill Mall to shoe departments in upscale Twin Cities department stores.

"When I get compared to Nordstorm's, which is daily, it makes my day," said Younkers store manager Bryan Brown.

That's because Nordstrom's is the leader among Minnesota

department stores in the sheer size and selection of its women's shoe department.

That's what Younkers was going for in Duluth -- but without the big city price tag -- when it recently doubled the size of its shoe department, doubled its staff and put a greater emphasis on customer service.


Younkers boosted its offerings of the latest heels, platform pumps and trendy and vintage-style boots from more name brands, including BCBG, Calvin Klein, Steve Madden, Jessica Simpson and Fergalicious. Some retail for more than $100, but prices of $49.99 to $79 for name brands are common, and they can be gotten for even less during Younkers' frequent sales.

"We are getting a really positive reaction," said Jim Brickey, the

department's supervisor. "People are loving it.

But will 5-inch platform stilettos really sell in the practical, casual Northland?

They already are, staff say.

"The ladies of Duluth love their high heels and their fashion shoes," Brown said.

Casual, comfort shoes, however, remain their biggest sellers.

"They continue to do well with us," he said. "Women wear these shoes, but many also like to dress up when they go out. They like to wear their high heels and their stylish trendy shoes. And it really is an affordable luxury."


Brown calls the expanded shoe department the biggest innovation at the store since Younkers took it over in 1998. With about 50 brand names in shoes, no other department store has this kind of selection in the Northland, he boasts.

The store hopes to capture the local market for upscale shoes that prompt some Northland women to go to the Twin Cities to find or shop online. The store also hopes to expand its customer base, which is mainly age 40-plus, by appealing to younger female shoppers who are wearing trendy high heel

shoes to go clubbing and fashion boots that are all the frenzy now.

"We tried to bring in shoes that were cutting-edge style but affordable," Brown said. "You certainly can get the style and the look here now. That's the whole idea."

Robin Stark of Hibbing was trying on boots on Saturday but likes to wear high heel shoes when she dresses up.

When she walked into the Younkers shoe department, she was drawn to one shoe display after another.

"It's great," she said. "This is bigger than any of the stores we have in Hibbing."

The Duluth Younkers is one of only 16 Younkers in the region -- out of 280 stores -- to get the shoe department makeover. All 16 markets, which included Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., lacked a department store with an extensive women's shoe department.


"For women, shoe shopping is like car shopping is for men, only a lot less expensive," Brown said.

At the Duluth Younkers, the remodeled first floor shoe department now takes up a full corner of the store and has a separate clearance room. With the shoes the stars, the décor is conservative retro, harking back to the early 1960s era of television's "Mad Men."

The investment - which was sizable - was worth it, Brown said.

"We're seeing more traffic than ever," he said. "We're very pleased with the response, and every week it gets better."

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