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[caption id="attachment_55730" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="Birkenstock USA moved out of these office buildings on the north Novato campus five years ago. (credit: Novato Redwood Properties)"][/caption]

NOVATO -- Birkenstock USA, LP, distributor of the iconic German-made leather and cork--soled sandals and other footwear, plans to move its offices back to the shuttered Birkenstock distribution center in Novato this fall, a company official confirmed.

The domestic distributor for Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. in early 2007 moved its 65 employees from the 93-acre north Novato campus at 8171 Redwood Blvd. to nearly 15,000 square feet of office space at the Hamilton Landing business park in southeast area of the city.

Since then, the plan has been not clear for the 93-acre vacant campus with 37,000 square feet in two office buildings behind a landmark 135,000-square-foot distribution warehouse visible from Highway 101. The owner, Birkenstock family--controlled Novato Redwood Properties, Inc., has been marketing the property itself and not tipping its hand to the local real estate community.

Yet, real estate experts familiar with company plans said the Novato operations were set to return to the property.

[caption id="attachment_55731" align="alignright" width="324" caption="The Birkenstock family owns the landmark 93-acre campus fronting on Highway 101 in north Novato. (credit: Novato Redwood Properties)"][/caption]

As the five-year Hamilton Landing lease was set to expire this year, Birkenstock USA (415-506-0217, www.birkenstockusa.com) and other U.S. functions for brand operating companies owned by the Birkenstock family evaluated options for housing the growing workforce and decided that the economics and brand recognition of the campus made better sense, according to Shelly Glasgow, director of product development and merchandising for Birkenstock USA. The return is set for September.

"We went through our tough times eight years ago, and we got lean and mean when we changed from a distribution center to a UPS third-party facility in Hebron, Ky., downsized and moved out of the building," she said Friday.

Fifteen years ago, there were so many employees at the campus, that some inside salespeople were asked to work from home. Today, with more than 100 employees at Hamilton Landing and 11 positions open across the domestic businesses, there are too many workers in that space, Ms. Glasgow said.

There will be room to grow back at the Birkenstock campus, she said. However, it's not totally clear what will happen to the site's best-known feature, the big distribution building with upward-pointing diamond eaves.

In 2007, Birkenstock USA told the Business Journal it relocated distribution partly because retailers were complaining about the delay in receiving footwear from Germany via Novato.

Since then, there have been big changes in U.S. operations. In November 2007, brothers at the helm of the Germany-based manufacturer -- Stephan and Christian Birkenstock -- acquired employee-owned Birkenstock Distributing, changing the name to Birkenstock USA.

U.S. operations are organized under family-owned operating companies: L+L, Logic and Logistics, handling common administration, information technology, real estate and other back-office functions, and brand-related companies Birkenstock USA, Birki, Papillio, Tatami, Alpro and Birko Orthopedie.

Margot Fraser started Birkenstock Distributing USA in 1966 to import the sandal, which grew out of the contoured insole innovation of Konrad Birkenstock in 1897. The distributor moved to Marin in 1971 and to the north Novato campus in 1992, replacing a McGraw-Hill Publishing distribution center there.

Birkenstock Distributing employees purchased the company from Ms. Fraser in 2002.

Driving employee growth are double-digit sales in the past two years for the flagship Birkenstock brand as well as for the others, according to Ms. Glasgow. The sales infrastructure has been growing along with sales. A year ago, Birkenstock USA revamped its sales team, adding 11 territory managers and field representatives to cover the U.S.

"I think what is causing much of this is in this general economic climate is people are looking for safe brands," she said. "And if they are going to spend $100 on shoes, is it going to last?"

This consumer interest in such "heritage renaissance" brands as Levi's, Red Wing Shoes work boots and Sperry Top Sider sandals are helping to pull Birkenstock brands beyond mainstay sales channels of Macy's and Nordstroms to "hipster" stores such as Urban Outfitters.

"On each rung, we're able to go a little more to the left and right," Ms. Glasgow said about the expansion of the sales opportunities.

A version of this story appeared on page 5 of the June 11 issue. It was based on real estate industry sources who were familiar with Birkenstock USA's plans to return to the campus.