Two retail chains eyeing potential of Downtown Pittsburgh

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Two discount fashion retailers appear to have their sights set on the Golden Triangle.

Ross Dress for Less has scouted at least one potential location Downtown -- the former Office Depot space in the old Gimbels department store building on Smithfield Street. And T.J. Maxx also is reported to be looking for sites in the Smithfield Street corridor.

If the chains move in, they'll help bolster a retail corridor that already is home to stores like Burlington Coat Factory, Brooks Brothers and Macy's. On the other hand, the Jos. A. Bank men's store moved over to Fifth Avenue not long ago, while the Saks Fifth Avenue department store closed in March and a former Lord & Taylor store sat empty for several years and is now being converted into office space.

The former Gimbels building that Ross has looked at is owned by McKnight Realty Partners. The developer said last May when the Office Depot store closed that it was in discussions with a "strong" clothing retailer about taking the 19,000-square-foot space.

William Rudolph, a principal in McKnight, would not say this week whether Pleasanton, Calif.-based Ross Dress for Less or Framingham, Mass.-based T.J. Maxx had looked at the site, although he added, "We definitely have interest in the space."

"At this point, we have no deal. We have a couple of retailers expressing interest, but we have no deal right now," he said.

Herky Pollock, the CBRE executive vice president who is the broker for the space, declined comment.

T.J. Maxx, which already has stores in Monroeville, Robinson, Bridgeville, Cranberry, Homestead and other parts of the region, has been growing over the past few years despite the recession. One of its most recent openings was in downtown Portland, Ore., where it converted a former Office Depot store.

Brittany Welch, a T.J. Maxx spokeswoman, stated in an email that she had no information on whether the store was looking at potential locations in the Golden Triangle. "Pittsburgh is not listed as an upcoming location for T.J. Maxx, so I cannot confirm anything at this time," she added.

Ross Dress for Less did not respond to a request for comment, but the chain also appears to be comfortable in urban settings. The retailer is preparing to open a store in a former Woolworth's in historic downtown Los Angeles next year. Ross now has stores in downtown Seattle, San Diego and San Jose. It also is planning a store in downtown East Peoria, Ill.

In the Pittsburgh region, Ross has stores in Ross, Robinson and several other locations.

David Glickman, director of retail services for the Newmark Grubb Knight Frank real estate firm, said Downtown would be a good market for a discount fashion retailer, given the number of people who work in the city's core and the growing residential population.

"For retailers, it's all about hitting their target market. With all the people now coming Downtown -- and it's more and more every day -- there's enough potential customers to do well," he said.

T.J. Maxx and Ross Dress for Less are off-price retailers that sell clothing and home goods. Both appeal to a wide range of shoppers, including college students and professional women.

Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said he has heard rumors that T.J. Maxx and Ross are looking Downtown but knew of nothing definitive.

"We're always looking for new retailers who can strengthen the Downtown market," he said. "We think that a T.J Maxx or a Ross Dress for Less would be great additions to the Downtown retail scene."

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