Remember these guys?
Everybody was all excited in the middle of the Summer of 2009 when they showed up at the corner of Houston Street and Broadway to greet customers in front of what would be Manhattan's first Hollister store. At the time, we called the dramatic environment an "astonishing feat of art direction and casting", but despite its size, it has never been much of a store, just a retail funhouse. It's looking like the immense "Epic" flagship, as it was meant to be called has seen its best days. To be honest, that was the first and last time we even went into the store, for many reasons, but mainly becasue the "fragrance" that gets pumped through the air and onto the sidewalks at most Hollister and Abercrombie stores usually makes The Shophound want to barf. Sadly, Hollister gave up its signature shirtless summer greeters a couple of summers ago, but now the chain is reportedly ready to abandon its gigantic SoHo flagship altogether. If you thought that the lavish space was just a bit more than the sportswear chain needed, you were probably right. The New York Post is reporting that parent company Abercrombe & Fitch has been quietly shopping the space to potential tenants to sub-lease. Other options, however, may include a complete buyout by the landlord which would allow them to court entirely new tenants at a much higher market rate than the one Abercrombie signed when it took the space.
Abercrombie's fortunes have been erratic in general since the financial crisis in 2008, and are currently on a downturn again. While Abercrombie and Hollister stores are both pervasive in malls all over America, in Manhattan, they have relied on splashy outsized flagship stores in pricey retail neighborhoods that have become tourist magnets. At the same time, they have avoided more prosaic but still upscale neighborhoods on the Upper East or West Sides or around Lower Fifth Avenue where its competitors like Banana Republic or J.Crew have traditionally thrived, trading that steady, more locally based business for gawking tourists. At any rate, the Epic flagship is apparently now too much of an expense for Hollister and Abercrombie to bear. What will eventually take its place remains to be seen, but whoever it is will be losing one of Hollister's greatest assets. The massive northern outside wall of the building that has served as a billboard for the store will soon be obscured by a new building over the service station and fruit stand that currently stand on the plot of land that borders Houston Street. 42,000 square feet on a prime stretch in SoHo will still command a hefty rent, though, so look for something major to take Hollister's place, eventually. If you are feeling nostalgic already, have a look back at some of the charming, young, shirtless and flip-flop-shod gentlemen who made Summer at the corner of Houston and Broadway just a bit more entertaining in the gallery below.