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Trickle-down effect at the Natick mall

NATICK - Martin + Osa could have opened its first Massachusetts store in Boston or any number of locations in the state, but instead it chose a mall off the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The reason? Nordstrom.

"We know our customers like shopping at Nordstrom," explained Steve Krajenka, the director of stores for Martin + Osa, which Friday opens a 6,700-square-foot store in the Natick Collection mall a few doors down from Nordstrom.

New merchants are setting up shop in Natick in hopes of capturing the kinds of well-heeled customers who will flock to the state's first Nordstrom and the first Neiman Marcus outside of Boston. Both are anchors in the 550,000-square-foot expansion of the Natick Collection.

Martin + Osa, a spinoff of the American Eagle sportswear chain, sells "refined casual" clothing, aimed at women and men between the ages of 25 and 40 who like luxurious knitwear such as $148 merino cashmere sweaters and $98 designer jeans.

Like Nordstrom, Martin + Osa puts a premium on customer service, offering complimentary bottled water to shoppers and installing call buttons in fitting rooms that will summon sales associates for help.

Krajenka said the firm eyed several locations near Boston before selecting Natick for its 11th US store location. Another draw: 100 other new retailers in the mall including Burberry, Jimmy Choo, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, and Calvin Klein.

The snowball effect of so many stores - plus the big anchors - creates "amazing momentum," said Krajenka. "There is so much energy and excitement happening here. We are drawn to that."

Spanish clothing chain Zara, high-tech sunglasses maker Oakley, and childrenswear maker Hanna Andersson also have chosen Natick as their first Massachusetts location.

For Hanna Andersson, Nordstrom also played a big factor.

"We like to place our stores near Nordstrom," said Johann Olivier, Hanna Andersson's vice president of retailing. The company is following Nordstrom to the Burlington Mall, where the store plans to open next year. (Martin + Osa is also trailing Nordstrom but to a mall near Detroit, where the department store plans to open this month.)

Hanna Andersson, a Portland, Ore., chain known for its colorful, organic children's clothes, already sells to an estimated 100,000 customers in New England via Web and catalog orders, Olivier said.

Olivier and Krajenka said their stores will participate in the grand opening galas the Natick Collection is planning Thursday. Such parties are a bonus, attracting people and media attention on a scale a single-store opening could never accomplish.

The number of luxury merchants moving into the Natick Collection reflects the changing demographics of the suburbs surrounding Natick. Over the past two decades, the population has become more affluent, a trend that is expected to continue. The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, a nonprofit regional planning agency, has estimated that by 2030 the population of the western suburbs could jump to 334,000 from 265,000.

Already, six of the state's top 10 publicly traded companies are situated in the suburbs west of Boston, and 10 percent of the state's workforce commutes to the region. The combination generates a $15 billion annual payroll, according to figures generated by the 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership, a nonprofit advocacy group for 32 suburban communities. Several of the state's most expensive real estate markets - including Wellesley and Weston - are Natick's next-door neighbors.

Such demographics helped convince high-end furniture store Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams to open its first suburban location in Natick about six months ago on Route 9, less than a mile from the expanded mall.

"The whole feeling of Natick is going up and up," said Barbara Goldberg, co-owner of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams' Natick store. She plans to send out catalogs next week - just as the mall's expansion wing opens its doors.

"It's good timing," she said. "We're excited to be here as all sorts of new people are discovering Natick."

Erica Noonan can be reached at enoonan@globe.com.

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