Clothing retailer H&M coming to Fresno's River Park in former Borders space

The Fresno BeeJanuary 17, 2014 

Trendy clothing retailer H&M is coming to River Park -- a victory for fans of the global brand and a reminder of Fresno's strength as a retail market.

After months of rumors, River Park formally announced Friday that H&M will open a 25,000-square-foot store in the former Borders space. The store will likely open in late summer or early fall.

The retailer, whose parent company Hennes & Mauritz is based in Sweden, has 3,000 stores in 53 countries. But it's the affordable prices and "fast fashion" -- taking runway looks and making them available to the masses quickly -- that attracts its following of customers ranging from teens to 30-somethings.

Prices at H&M range from $10 for a T-shirt to $50 for a jacket, said River Park representative Tracy Kashian.

H&M did not return calls seeking comment, but Kashian said she believes the store will carry women's, men's and children's clothing, along with accessories and shoes.

The retailer's decision to open a store in Fresno is a signal that the city is no longer a sleepy little town ignored by big companies, said Tim Stearns, director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fresno State.

"It appeals to a younger set, but having them here affirms that we're a market that has great value," said Stearns, who has visited the Munich H&M. "They don't make those choices without a really hard look at who is in the market."

It's also a sign that the Fresno market can handle more than just basic clothing sold at department stores and discounters, said Amanda Valdez of Fresno, who runs the Fashion, Love & Martinis blog and whose fashion- and plus-sized-based YouTube channel has more than 9,500 subscribers.

"Fresno can be fashionable," she said. "It shows that Fresno is a viable market for fashion, that we can carry on-trend items and we can play host to these major retailers."

The Fresno H&M will fill a space that has been empty since 2011, when a bankrupt Borders closed all its stores. H&M is aggressively growing, with plans to increase its number of stores by 10% to 15% a year.

H&M has had a store at Modesto's Vintage Faire mall since 2009 and runs TV ads in the Fresno market. The retailer's representatives were sniffing around the Fresno/Clovis market before deciding upon River Park.

And shoppers wanted a store in the area. River Park posted banners around the empty Borders asking shoppers what they would like to see in that spot. The banners had QR codes, images that shoppers scanned with their smartphones that led them to a survey. Of 1,500 responses, 25% said they wanted an H&M in the spot, Kashian said.

H&M is a much more affordable retailer than many of its River Park neighbors, including White House/Black Market and Ann Taylor LOFT -- but that's OK, Kashian said.

"We're not about a dollar amount," she said. "We're about what Fresno wants."

The news of a Fresno H&M spread quickly on Twitter and Facebook.

"This makes me so unbelievably happy. No more driving to Modesto for H&M," tweeted Anna Gonzalez, 23, of Fresno.

She drives to Modesto once or twice a year to shop at the store.

H&M is often compared to Forever 21, which has a three-story store in Fashion Fair Mall that is among the biggest of the chain's 480 stores, though there are some differences.

Gonzalez says H&M's products are higher quality and a little higher priced. H&M has the potential to capture customers who age out of Forever 21.

"Forever 21 is a little more teenage girl," she said. "I'm 23 years old and I shouldn't be dressing like a 16-year-old."

Some H&M stores carry an additional selection of higher-end, higher-quality clothing. They also carry basics, such as jeans and blazers. The retailer has partnerships with celebrities, including Madonna and Beyoncé, for limited collections of clothing.

Like Forever 21, H&M is also known for instantly recreating looks that appear on runways -- a process that takes most retailers much longer. H&M employs 160 in-house designers and 100 pattern makers and has long-term partnerships with factories around the world.

Watch previews of the 2014 H&M Spring Collection for women and men

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6431, or @BethanyClough on Twitter.

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