Jeneé Osterheldt

Surprise: I love Halls at Crown Center

Goodbye, stodgy department store, hello Halls on Grand.
Goodbye, stodgy department store, hello Halls on Grand. The Kansas City Star

Department stores typically welcome your wallet first, you second.

It’s just the old culture to reek of cold classism and lukewarm smiles that only speak money. But Halls on Grand is something different. The Kansas City staple announced last year it would close its Country Club Plaza store and expand and redesign its Crown Center location. I didn’t think it would be a place for me.

As the store’s president, Kelly Cole, told The Star in September: “Halls is thought of as a special occasion store.” We didn’t go there for everyday shopping. But he wanted to change that, to make Halls a store for the people.

And that’s exactly what the department store on Crown Center’s third floor has become since it opened a month ago: a Kansas City destination. I walked in on a Wednesday and did a double take. First of all, let’s talk about the Oprah lighting. Everything and everyone looks good in this light. Bring your camera phone — you are going to want a selfie.

The colors are bright, and the music is funky: Rihanna, Sia and Bruno Mars. Employees greeted me with a familial kind of hello. They looked me in the eye. I saw their teeth as they smiled. Warmth in a department store? That’s new. I like it.

You would think you’d be overwhelmed in a space that spans 60,000 square feet. Nope. This isn’t Ikea. You don’t need a map and a prayer. It’s more like a shopping gallery than a department store.

As I walked through, I heard people laughing and talking. I saw a few 20-somethings taking pictures near one of the Scott Heffley displays. Halls teamed up with Heffley, senior conservator of painting at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, to give “The Bridge” across Grand Boulevard a mood that screams downtown artsy chic. Pieces include Dalmatians wearing spiked collars and arrangements of vintage televisons and Tim Burton-like skeletons.

Yeah, Halls has remixed itself to be the place you want to window-shop. And staffers (Amen for diversity — they actually look like the people of this city) don’t hover over you as you browse through the clothes.

About the selection: I was happy to see local favorite Charlie Hustle as well as DiLascia, Wildfox and Rag & Bone. So you can drop $32 on a T-shirt or a few hundred on a pair of Kate Spade shoes.

Another bonus: The fitting rooms are big, with three-way mirrors and a vintage glam feel. Richard Gere couldn’t make a gal feel like a prettier woman. But the 5,000-square-foot beauty department will give you an ego boost, if that’s what you need. The ladies at Laura Mercier and Chanel (Hello, Lisa and Madeleine) gave me all of the fabulous, fierce feelings.

All that said, the star of the new location isn’t the clothes or the art or the new price points. The winner is clear: H Bar.

The old Halls cafe was very ladies-who-lunch. Nice but a little stiff. H Bar, open in the center court from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., is sexy and sweet. There are cocktails, coffee, lunch and appetizers. It has the atmosphere of a posh city bar, but the staff will make you feel like you’re at your favorite auntie’s house. You have chef Carla to thank for that. She preps the food so well and cares so much about what goes on each plate that I asked her for a hug after I devoured my sandwich: poached mushroom with havarti, arugula and truffle aioli on sourdough bread with a side of fruit ($10).

“That really would be good with the tomato soup,” she told me when my waiter set my plate down. He had suggested it earlier, and she explained to me how good the combo is. I told her how I only like tomato soup for the first few spoonfuls. Next thing I knew, a ketchup-sized saucer full of tomato soup was on my plate.

This wasn’t special treatment. A woman came in for carry-out, and Carla made sure her meal was wrapped securely and she had everything she needed. The waiter already knew what kind of latte another customer wanted. It’s been open a month, but the neighborhood feel has been built.

So I sat back, dipped the sandwich and blacked out for a second.

Sweet heavens and blue fountains in Kansas City, delicious food with a side of wondrous window-shopping? My lunch breaks now have regular dates with Halls on Grand.

To reach Jeneé Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or email “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. On Twitter @jeneeinkc.