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Michael Leighton, a retail consultant at CBRE, said many American retailers have long resisted setting up franchises, which is effectively a requirement for doing business in the Gulf. The economic downturn helped change that.

“As consumer spending has reduced in the U.S., they’ve been forced to adjust their business model,” he said. Setting up a franchise in the Gulf is “a very easy way of generating extra revenue. … People have to generate profits and balance the books, and in the U.S. it’s very very hard at the moment,” he added.

The strategy is not without risks. Dubai’s economy was pummeled by the global economic downturn, which sent property prices plunging and exposed large levels of debt. Many retailers planned their regional expansions during the boom years late last decade and had to contend with leaner times when they eventually opened.

“When we made the deal, we made it right at the peak. … When we opened, it was certainly at a much more difficult time,” Bloomingdale’s Mr. Gould said. He said the Dubai store nonetheless beat the company’s first-year projections in 2010, and he insists this year is looking “just terrific.” He declined to give specifics.

The U.S. retail invasion shows few signs of slowing down.

Chicago-based Potbelly Sandwich Shop this year opened two stores in Dubai - with pork-free menus to suit Islamic rules.

The Cheesecake Factory plans to open its first international restaurants in Dubai and Kuwait next year. It, like Potbelly and Shake Shack, is expanding through an agreement with Kuwait’s M.H. Alshaya Co., which has Mideast partnership deals with several American companies, including Starbucks and frozen yogurt chain Pinkberry.

“There is great demand for high-quality American brands there,” said Jill Peters, vice president for investor relations at the cheesecake chain.

Frederick’s expects its Gulf customers won’t be that different from those in the U.S. - young, fashion-conscious women who keep a close watch on what’s happening on the red carpets of Hollywood, said Mr. Lynch, the CEO.

While the Abu Dhabi store offers saucy staples such as the “Exxtreme Cleavage” bra and even a pair of rhinestone-covered handcuffs, Mr. Lynch is eager to point out the company has lots more to offer, including swimwear and shoes.

Scantily dressed mannequins in the windows of its flagship Emirates store hint at the risque offerings inside, though the storefront is designed so passers-by can’t easily peer in. Inside, lingerie is grouped by color, with a relatively more modest bridal collection showcased in a lushly carpeted centerpiece section.

The setup differs from U.S. layouts and is designed to appeal to Gulf tastes, said Osama Rashad, retail manager for franchisee Safeer’s parent company.

He expects local women, who generally appear in public covered in full-length black cloaks and headscarves, and other Arabs will account for as much as two-thirds of sales.

“They know what they want,” he said. “They travel a lot. They know these brands. And they like to spend their money.”

Still, as savvy as the region’s shoppers may be, there are limits to what Frederick’s is willing to offer in its Arabian stores. Out for now, for example, are kinky dress-up costumes that are popular at Halloween.

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