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Kohl's Department Stores held its grand openings today to mark the official debut of its three stores in the Buffalo Niagara market.

Customers lined up this morning, some starting at 6 a.m., with $10 coupons and ads touting deeply discounted items such as coffee makers and toaster ovens. The first 500 received tote bags, which were gone in a few minutes when the stores opened at 8 a.m.

Kohl's had quietly opened the stores starting Sunday to give employees a chance to prepare for the crowds.

Based in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Kohl's is opening 17 stores companywide today and will have close to 750 stores by the end of the year.

Its Buffalo Niagara stores will be open until 10 p.m. tonight at:

3115 Niagara Falls Blvd., north of East Robinson Road, Amherst.

4835 Transit Road, south of William Street, Town of Lancaster.

3430 Amelia Drive, in the Quaker Crossing Shopping Center, Town of Orchard Park.

For those who have never shopped Kohl's, it's first and foremost a clothing store. More than 75 percent of the 88,000 square feet is devoted to fashion. Kohl's chooses lower-rent locations away from malls, so it can usually sell name brand clothing for less than department stores. Kohl's also carries cosmetics, linens, housewares and seasonal items.

Shoppers will find plenty of brand names such as Champion, Chaps, Columbia Sportswear, KitchenAid, Lee, Levi's, Nike, OshKosh B'Gosh, Playtex, Reebok and Royal Velvet. Kohl's also carries its own private labels such as apt. 9, Bodysource, Croft & Barrow, Sonoma and Urban Pipeline.

There are clothes for petites to size 24.

Kohl's has exclusive rights to Laura Ashley Lifestyles, Gloria Vanderbilt Home and Daisy Fuentes. This fall, Kohl's will have another exclusive, the Candie's brand. Estee Lauder also designed exclusive make-up for Kohl's such as American Beauty, Flirt and Good Skin. Like in a department store, customers can sample products before buying.

Miranda Stephens of Amherst got in line at 7 a.m. to make sure she got one of the 500 tote bags.

"I've been waiting years for this store to come to Buffalo," she said. "My mom lives in Minnesota, and she's always buying my kids clothes there. They have the cutest things and the prices are great."

Kohl's advertising strategy is similar to the marketing department stores use. It advertises products at 30 percent, 50 percent or more off the regular price, although the merchandise does not often sell at regular prices. Some products, such as shoes, carry an electronic price tag that Kohl's can automatically update with new sale prices using radio frequencies.

Mary Fitzpatrick of Niagara Falls scored several pairs of shoes and spring outfits at the grand opening sale.

"It's so clean and bright," she said. "Even with all these people here today, it was easy to get around the store and find things."

Nearly one-third of Kohl's sales come from women's clothing, according to Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee. Men's and children's clothing each make up just under 20 percent of sales.

Unlike a traditional department store, Kohl's provides shoppers with tote bags and shopping carts. These are sleek, maneuverable carts with mesh netting and a hook to hang clothes. Some double as baby strollers.

"Mom is a pretty important shopper," said David George, manager of the Lancaster store. "We want to make things easy and convenient for her."