Old Navy facelift fashionably chic

Old Navy remake looking goodWalletPop took a sneak peek at Old Navy's nationwide spring makeover on Thursday and liked what it saw.

A store at the Atlantic Center Mall in Brooklyn, N.Y., appeared airier, with an oval path cleared to keep the shopping traffic moving around the space. Entering a department is like stepping onto the off-ramp, essentially. Dressing rooms are now in the center along with the cash registers, acting as a natural barrier so customers don't crowd the middle.

Dozens of women, perhaps motivated by the unseasonably warm weather, moved briskly through the cashier lines, toting spring and summer fashions. An entire wall of flip-flops selling at two pair for $5 beckoned, trumpeting the chain's drive to return to its budget roots.

One employee described the renovation as 75% finished -- with menswear and children's play areas to go. The Brooklyn store planned four stations for kids to entertain themselves with toys made of lights (like Simon, or the floor piano in the movie "Big"? I wasn't sure). The remodeling is supposed to be finished by late May, early June, maybe, the employee said.

The "fundamentals" wall of discount items mentioned in earlier reports would actually be several in the Brooklyn store, I was told, with low-priced basics that complement a particular department. That seemed like a work in progress.

It was encouraging to see Old Navy making a tangible effort to win back recession-battered customers. As a writer who can often dress down for a day of work, I've always gravitated toward Old Navy's cheap tees, shorts and comfy boxers. But its loyalists were dwindling. Sales plummeted from $6.6 billion in 2005 to $5.2 billion in 2008, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with a small recovery to $5.3 billion in 2009.

About 200 of the company's fleet of 1,000 stores are being renovated this spring with more to come. Spokesman Daniel Rubin told the Atlanta paper that Old Navy had not made significant changes to the layout since it opened in 1994. The redecorating is spearheading $575 million in improvements.

So far it looks like money well spent.
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