Puttin’ down new roots

Bill Ruhrkraut is a man who savors gardens. At his former home in Vienna, Virginia — not far from where he served for four years as vice president and general manager of Bloomingdale’s in Tysons Corner Center, one of the largest malls in America — he created a small Japanese garden, complete with reed grasses and a waterfall — but no koi. Bloomingdale’s also has a tradition of giving new executives orchids, because of their enduring beauty. So when he recently became vice president and general manager of Bloomingdale’s White Plains — “It was a great opportunity to be in the metro area,” he says — the White Plains executive team gave him a white orchid in a matching square pot, which complements his sleek black office on the fourth floor of the glass box standalone store.

It’s not the last flower you’ll find blooming at Bloomie’s. “One of the big trends this season is florals, in everything from ready-to-wear to home design,” he says over decaf in his office. In person, Ruhrkraut is, well, personable — warm and friendly, immediately offering refreshments — just the type of individual you’d imagine the company would want at the helm of the 44-year-old store, particularly in our Amazon-ian age.

“It’s a challenge,” he says of retaining traditional shoppers while drawing in their online counterparts. But that’s what he likes about retail. “No two days are the same.”

So how does Bloomingdale’s appeal to those who’ve pretty much abandoned brick-and-mortar stores while enlarging a clientele that simply must feel those 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets before purchasing them? Bloomingdale’s — which is owned by Macy’s Inc. — does this with something called “hyperlocalization — finding out what the local market is and catering to the local market.” In Westchester County, that means appealing to a sophisticated shopper of luxury goods in part with its semiannual Mix Masters campaign, which encourages individual style through its influencers — this spring ranging from TV’s Joy Bryant to microbiologist-turned-fitness pro Grece Ghanem — and its 100% Bloomingdale’s campaign, featuring thousands of items exclusive to the retailer.

Among those items, Ruhrkraut says, shoppers will discern a number of trends — clear vinyl totes, handbags and other accessories; animal prints, particular snakeskin, as in a gray snakeskin Hudson Park duvet cover; neon-colored accessories; and light-washed, wide-legged denim.

But Bloomingdale’s customers also know that what makes it “like no other store in the world” is the concept of retail as theater that the company pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s. Today, the store supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October — and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, The Carey Foundation and the Marisa Acocella Foundation — with special promotions and Saturday morning fitness classes as part of its “Give Pink Get More” campaign and packs them in for its November “Makeup Date,” with raffles, giveaways and celebrity hosts.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, the store will hold a “Fragrance Fair” on May 10 and 11 and a “Momhood Through the Years” fashion show, also on May 11. Both will feature nibbles, bubbly, a DJ, gifts, offers and more.

Such “animation,” as it’s called in the business, “is in our DNA,” Ruhrkraut says.

It might be in his DNA as well. Indeed, his first job out of college — Ohio State, where he earned a business degree — was in a retail executive training program at Marshall Field’s in Chicago. From trainee, he became a manager and a buyer, then did a stint in wholesale. He spent 31 years in the Windy City, 21 of them at Bloomingdale’s.

During his time in Chicago, Ruhrkraut — who grew up in suburban Cleveland — lived in high-
rises. It wasn’t until he moved to suburban Washington, D.C., that the garden bug bit him.

With the move north, he’s been living in a rental in White Plains as his wife prepares to join him. (Their son is off to college so it’s a perfect moment for transitions.)

He’s missed cherry blossom season there but timed his arrival perfectly for the cherry blossoms here. As he house-hunts, one feature is a must: “I don’t intend to give up on a yard.” 

For more on the “Fragrance Fair” (May 10 and 11) and the “Momhood Through the Years” fashion show (May 11), email whiteplainsrsvp@bloomingdales.com.

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