It's not every week we see a new department store in Marin, so the arrival of Kohl's at Northgate has to count as a major retail event. The owners of Northgate had some good fortune when Mervyns went into bankruptcy last year and closed all their stores. What could have been a problem turned out to be a bonus when Kohl's snapped up the Northgate anchor store, along with many others across California. And the timing was perfect, with Northgate embarking on a major renovation that is heading for completion at the end of this year.
Externally, the main change, aside from the new name and a lick of paint, is that the Kohl's box is now separated from the rest of the center. The internal mall that used to connect to the old Mervyn's has gone, replaced by what will eventually be an outdoor "Oak Plaza", with roadside restaurants and stores. You can see the tree in the photos below, plus the new units attached to Kohl's, which will include Panera Bread and Roadside BBQ.
Inside, the transformation is more dramatic. There are no structural changes to the Mervyn's box, and the floor plan is a simple racetrack layout, with a pair of escalators in the center to move between the two levels. But the internal furnishings and displays are all new and the presentation of the merchandise is very well done. It looks, feels and smells like a new store.
The store is not very large, so apparel takes up the majority of the space. The lower level is mostly clothing, with a jewelry/accessory section. A lot of the upper level is taken by kids clothing, together with shoes and a home/bath section.
Most department stores place checkouts throughout the store, but here the checkouts are all located together close to the main entrance, which is more like a Target or other discount store.
The customer service desk is on the upper level (pictured below).
Kohl's branding strategy includes the usual mix of own-brands, industry favorites and exclusive designers. A lot of the merchandise carries one of Kohl's own store brands; I saw names like Sonoma Life and Croft & Barrow. Nike, Fila, Levis and Lee jeans are heavily promoted. The exclusive brands include Dana Buchman and Simply Vera Wang. I also noted Tony Hawk skatewear, Elle clothing, Chaps and Lauren Conrad.
Overall, first impressions of Kohl's were very positive. The staff are clearly motivated, and there are plenty of them. The merchandise looks good and the prices look competitive. The whole experience is completely different to the sad state that Mervyn's had reached towards the end. It is also clearly superior to the Sears and Macy's stores at Northgate, and hopefully it will spur those stores, particularly Sears, to make improvements.