Detroit — – Nearly a century ago, when downtown Woodward Avenue brimmed with shops, pedestrians, automobiles and streetcars, the corner of Woodward and State was the busiest in the nation.
Now, the corner is where two companies intent on making big, bold statements will intersect: the upscale Restoration Hardware and Bedrock Real Estate Services, part of downtown tycoon Dan Gilbert’s business portfolio.
Restoration Hardware, a luxury home furnishing retailer, will open an outlet store at the northwest corner of Woodward and State, according to sources familiar with the plan. The buildings on that corner are owned by Gilbert’s Bedrock, which is reshaping downtown by gobbling up buildings and often filling them with new life.
An outlet store may sound downscale, but Restoration Hardware sells $7,000 couches and $59 “faux fur pet vests” among other things.
The Corte Madera, California-based retailer is on a major push to build huge, elaborate stores. Chairman and CEO Gary Friedman has become famous and drawn parody for starring in YouTube videos describing the company’s “real estate transformation.” The transformation includes scrapping smaller stores in favor of spaces that range from 25,000 to 60,000 square feet.
In one video, Friedman — describing its new megastores being rolled out in several U.S. cities — said the spaces “would make Marcus Vitruvius, one of the authors of the original 10 books of architecture, and Leonardo da Vinci ... proud.”
Friedman’s videos may have drawn some ridicule, but RH’s bottom line gets respect from Wall Street. Earnings have climbed by at least double digits in all but two of the past 14 quarters. In the first quarter of this year, sales climbed to $422 million, a 15-percent gain from the same period a year ago.
The company operates 68 retail stores and 18 outlet stores in 29 states. It has a store at Troy’s Somerset Collection.
It’s too soon to tell what the RH outlet store downtown will look like. The buildings, 1201 and 1217 Woodward, are undergoing major restorations. It appears the walls on the bottom two floors of the buildings have been knocked out. Bedrock officials say the floors were open like that when the buildings were purchased. That opens up a space of nearly 25,000 square feet, based on building information from CoStar Group, a commercial real estate information service.
Neither Restoration Hardware nor Gilbert’s Bedrock would comment on specific plans.
“Renovations are currently underway to restore the historic design of the facades,” said Bedrock spokeswoman Robin Schwartz in an email. The only other detail Bedrock would provide is the bottom two floors of the buildings will be retail space.
Neither has officially confirmed Restoration Hardware is setting up shop downtown, although Gilbert hinted at it in March. Asked about the move, he said: “I’m not supposed to talk about that yet.”
Gilbert and Bedrock — Gilbert is co-founder of the real estate firm — are major forces downtown. In August 2010, Quicken Loans Inc. moved from the suburbs to downtown. Gilbert is chairman and founder of the online mortgage lender. Since then, Bedrock and its affiliates have invested more than $1.7 billion in more than 70 properties in downtown Detroit.
Many of those properties are on Woodward in the central business district, which is rebounding after decades of decline. Many once-prominent local retailers first set up shop or had a major presence on Woodward, including Vernors, Sanders Confectionary and Hughes & Hatcher men’s clothing store.
The 1201 Woodward building — one of the buildings expected to be occupied by Restoration — used to be a Kresge department store.
The strip’s peak years were 1915-55, said Rebecca Binno Savage, a historical preservationist. She wrote the language in legislation that makes part of the strip an official historic district called Lower Woodward Avenue.
In 1925, city officials reported that 1.2 million people crossed the corner of State and Woodward in an 18-hour period, making it the busiest corner in the nation. The corner is on the western side of Woodward. On the eastern side is where State Street becomes Gratiot Avenue. That’s where J.L. Hudson’s department store once stood.
At one point, the block-long Hudson’s was the second-largest department store in the world behind Macy’s in New York City.
That former Hudson’s site, now empty, is controlled by Gilbert, and he plans on making an “iconic statement” at the location, according to previous interviews.