Macy's Announces New Renovation Plan For Historic Brooklyn Flagship

The fate of the lumbering behemoth known as Macy's in Brooklyn has been decided, and while the store will stay put, it will be both shrunken and dramatically overhauled.
Over the past couple of years, the Shophound has been following the state of the huge and historic but woefully out of date Macy's store in Downtown Brooklyn. The centerpiece of a renewed Fulton Street shopping corridor, the enormous nine-floor store is one of the largest in the chain, but has failed to keep up with both the newer influx of retailers to the area and the increasingly affluent population inhabiting the Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens neighborhoods that are literally in its backyard. About a year ago, Macy's officials announced a long overdue renovation for the neglected store, which began its life in 1865 as the Abraham & Straus flagship, that would renovate it from top to bottom. Surprisingly, the plan was put on hold a scant few weeks later as the store began to explore other real estate options for the valuable site including a possible sale or redevelopment of the building and a move to a smaller site nearby. The newly updated plan will include a combination of several options. Yesterday, Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren revealed a scheme that will shrink the floor from its current nine floors to the first four levels plus the basement. The upper floors will be sold to real estate developer Tishman Speyer for $170 million who will also cover the costs of the renovation below with another $100 million over the next three years.
While it sounds like the store will be substantially reduced in size, it will actually only go from 378,000 square feet of selling space on nine floors to 310,000 square feet on five. Upgrades are said to include uncovering windows to allow more light as well as renovated bathrooms, escalators and elevators along with a general refurbishment of the of the space. A walk through the store today would reveal an ungainly patchwork of poorly sequenced departments as well as an ill advised mezzanine level on half of the main floor that creates cramped shopping spaces and obscures parts of the building's original architecture. However, a closer look reveals striking Art Deco architectural details like a lavishly decorated bank of elevators at the store's center (pictured below) and carved marble frieze work framing the main entrances on Fulton and Livingston Streets (pictured above). Ultimately, it will be a few years before we see the results of the renovation, but given the store's rapidly gentrifying locale, the opportunity for a freshly made-over Macy's in Brooklyn to do big business is huge.

Macy's will spend $100 million making over outdated downtown Brooklyn store (Crain's)
Retail Renewal on Hold: Macy's Brooklyn Renovation Might Be Off Because...Real Estate



Suburban Grocery Palace Wegmans Coming To Brooklyn Navy Yard

The past 20 years have brought a bonanza of grocery shopping to New York City where we once complained of having the worst grocery stores anywhere. Cramped, expensive and low in selection, New York City's grocery stores were notoriously sub-par, and city-dwellers with access to a car would regularly brag about driving to New Jersey or Long Island for real grocery shopping, but then Whole Foods arrived in Chelsea in the late 90s. Shoppers clamored to it like it was an oasis in the desert. After a few years, it had opened some of its largest stores in the chain in Manhattan, and it continues to look for suitable locations in the city. Then Trader Joe's arrived, now with five city locations, and Fairway started expanding throughout the city with stores much more efficiently designed that its still problematic original Upper West Side store. Grocery shopping is still too expensive in New York City, but at least the stores have improved in quality and size. Still, there was one holdout that suburban shoppers spoke of with reverence: Wegmans (pictured above). Often rated as the best grocery store in America, Wegman's, known for its reasonable prices and broad selection, stretches throughout the Northeast all the way down to Northern Virginia, but has bypassed the city until now. Yesterday the chain announced its first New York City store to open in 2017 as part of the redevelopment of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (rendering pictured below). Chosen in part because of its promise to prioritize hiring in the surrounding neighborhood, Wegmans emphasis on prepared foods also requires a expanded staff ensuring even more local jobs to be available. Though the 74,000 square foot store will be about 25% smaller than the average Wegman's location, and the smallest in the chain, it will still be larger than the sizable Fairway in Red Hook or the Whole Foods in Gowanus which is also quite large. We all have a couple of years to prepare, but we can already picture the crowds including Manhattanites caravanning to Brooklyn to get to Legman's. Start your shopping lists now.

Wegmans to Open at Brooklyn Navy Yard (NYTimes)


Brooklyn Discount Diving Edition

19CRIT2-blog427Every now and then, our Critical Shoppers hit the discounters, and in today's Thursday Styles, Molly Young checks out the relatively new Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio, and it is clear that this is not her first time at this particular rodeo. For the uninitiated, Last Call Studio is a smaller, more condensed version of Neiman Marcus' larger, department store sized Last Call outlet stores. This new format is designed to be more easily inserted into urban shopping areas and suburban retail centers as opposed to being limited to dedicated outlet malls like Woodbury Commons and the like. It is the first Last Call store in New York city, but may not be the last, and not unlike Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus is following the unlikely pattern of entering New York city with its discount brand in advance of opening the full line store expected in the Hudson Yards development in a few years.
But back to the store itself, and out clearly experienced off-price shopper. Young notes that the luxury department store outlet chains like Last Call as well as Saks Off 5th (which is coming to the Financial District) and Nordstrom Rack (already here) has clobbered the old line off-pricers like Filene's Basement, Syms, Daffy's and the grande dame of them all, Loehmann's, literally out of existence. This has been at least partly achieved by creating a more pleasant shopping environment. "Loehmann’s stores were a mess, with jammed racks, communal dressing rooms (leave your dignity at the door) and salespeople who wore the ravaged masks of Goya subjects. Last Call Studio is 16,000 square feet of orderly displays and a smiling sales staff. Looks are everything," she writes, and its worth noting that the local survivor, Century 21, has thrived by expanding and upgrading its stores from cramped, dingy and messy to species, sleek, shiny and somewhat less messy.
But it's the merchandise that really makes the difference between a successful off-pricer and a collection of picked over goods. Shopper Young has an extensive list of what to consider purchasing and what to ignore, and it is very specific,

Stick to natural fibers and colors found in nature. Never buy anything with a peplum, a cow print or a notched V-neck. Avoid harem pants. Avoid fabrics that glow in the dark. Avoid jumpsuits unless you’re good at winning people over with your personality. Avoid anything eggplant-colored or printed with a pattern that causes physical distress. 

That's just the first half of the list, which are generally good guidelines, but seem pretty personal overall. In the spirit of fashion and self-expression, however,we would add that if you know you are the kind of person who can carry off harem pants —and though you are very rare, you exist and you know who you are— you should definitely go for it, off-price or not.

Critical Shopper: Cheap Thrills at Neiman Marcus’s Cut-Price Outlet Store By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio 210 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn


Brooklyn-iest Brooklyn Edition

05CRITICAL1-articleLarge-v2This week's Thursday Styles features Critical Shopper Molly Young venturing to Bedford Stuyvesant. The Shophound is old enough to remember a time not so long ago when that phrase could be translated to mean that the Critical Shopper had lost her mind and had a death wish, but nothing changes the city more than Big Real Estate, and today, Bed-Stuy isn't even the newest up-and-coming neighborhood anymore. It is, however, still a place where a directional indie boutique like Sincerely Tommy can set up a most spacious shop, for now, anyway.
Our shopper seems to be right at home, and finds a versatile top and pants ensemble.

Add a cigarette and a preposterous tan and I could be an Italian grandmother on the make in Portofino. With a macaroni necklace, I could be six years old. This is the kind of versatility I seek in clothes.

So, it's definitely not for the hotsy totsy Hervé Leger set. On the plus side, the article's photos show the kind of hairy shoes that are all the rage on Milan's catwalks for Fall. These sorts of looks will either delight or repulse you, and it sounds like how you feel about this store depends on how you feel about the more adventurous looks at Opening Ceremony, or the fashion sense of Solange Knowles. If such things excite you, then you are probably already on your way to Bed-Stuy. If not, then you can rest assured that while there will always be places to buy bombshell outfits, Sincerely Tommy just isn't one of them.

Critical Shopper: In Bed-Stuy, a New Store is Like a Petting Zoo for Clothes by Molly Young (NYTimes)
Sincerely Tommy 343 Tompkins Avenue between Monroe & Madison Sts., Bedford-Stuyvesant


Bed Bath & Beyond Mega-Complex Coming To Brooklyn's Sunset Park

We still don't know if a Bed Bath & Beyond store is coming to Columbus Avenue and 93rd Street, but we do have official word that the company is planning an enormous store for Brooklyn's rapidly redeveloping Sunset Park. The Wall Street Journal reports that the big-box retailer has leased over 100,000 square feet of space at the Liberty View Industrial Plaza (pictured above) which will combine all four of the brand's chains —Bed Bath & Beyond, buybuy BABY, Cost Plus World Market, and Harmon Face Values— all together on a single floor. While aspects of some of these chains have been incorporated into various Bed Bath & Beyond locations around the city, this will be the first time each retail concept will be presented in a single location that also presents the complete format. The store is expected to draw customers from all over the borough and is connected to a block-sized parking lot. It's a major deal for the continuing efforts to rehabilitate the vacant industrial buildings in the Sunset Park neighborhood and suggests what kind of other retailers are expected to follow Bed Bath & Beyond to the area. There's no projected opening date yet, but you should have plenty of time to make sure that you are getting all those coupons by mail, email and SMS to take full advantage of the mega-store when it opens.

Bed Bath & Beyond Takes Sunset Park (WSJ)
Big Box Rumors: Is This The Entrance To A New Bed Bath & Beyond On Columbus Avenue?



Boerum Hill Blues Edition

18CRITICAL2-blog427We aren't sure if Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica's look at the WP Store in Boerum HIll in today's Thursday Styles is an expression of his disappointment in the store itself or the neighborhood that surrounds it. That particular Smith Street corridor is where the current wave of gentrification rolling through Brooklyn  originally took root, and yet, our shopper is dismayed that the area, as reflected in the store, is now safe and boring. The WP Store is the creation of Italian Manufacturer WP Lavori in Corso, which licenses and markets upscale sportswear from old-timey labels like Woolrich, Baracuta and Palladium boots and distributes Spiewak, Barbour and Blundstone. By forming retail outlets featuring all of the brands under its umbrella —this is the first WP Store in America— our shopper says the company has created a disjointed store whose whole is less than the sum of its bland parts. "...there’s not much need for adventure here, and there’s not much on offer," he writes "WP Lavori is a store operated by a conglomerate."
Our shopper finds more interesting fare from the non-company owned labels like Engineered Garments and Barena. Apparently the more interesting Mark McNairy designed Woolrich Woolen Mills line, which would seem to be up Caramanica's quirky alley,  has been restricted to the Woolrich Store in SoHo that WP Lavori also runs. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the WP Store has taken over the space once occupied by the much admired Smith & Butler without changing the first piece of decor. The previous tenant was an upscale store that helped make Smith Street safe for less inspiring neighbors like yet another branch of Intermix, but also spoke to the idiosyncratic Brooklyn style that our shopper seems to be searching for. But this is today's Brooklyn. The moment it seems like something interesting is happening, nebulous commercial interests converge and that adventurous spirit moves on, but don't be discouraged. There's still about two thirds of the borough left that has been totally untouched by any kind of coolness, so plenty more ground is waiting to be explored and conquered.

Critical Shopper: A Store in Brooklyn Reminds Men to Take Risks By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
WP Store 225 Smith Street at Butler Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn


Not A Retirement Community Edition

17zCRITICAL3-superJumboIn tomorrow's Thursday Styles, it looks like our Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica has found one of the Brooklyniest stores in Brooklyn. You couldn't be faulted for confusing someplace called Leisure Life with an assisted living facility, but that name is just the kind of ironic touch that reminds you what borough you are in. The hip buzzwords are all here: Deadstock fabric, reworking vintage material and "Old World rigor". The year-old establishment has apparently been fully approved by the impeccably influential bloggers at Street Ettiquete, so it must be fairly well above reproach. "Leisure Life also offers a savvy read on what a mature hip-hop aficionado would want to wear in middle age," our shopper writes, further outlining the store's very specific focus. "I gravitated immediately to a navy shirt with a cabin-themed print, a clear nod to some of the more eccentric Polo fabrics ($120)." It sounds like a style blog come to life.

Critical Shopper: For Friends in the Know By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Leisure Life NYC 559 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn


Macy's Brooklyn Renovation Might Be Off Because...Real Estate

Almost a year ago to the day, The Shophound took a jaunt down to a store we would ordinarily not have gone out of our way to visit, the Macy's flagship store in Brooklyn (pictured above).We were curious to compare state of the city's other sizable Macy's to the lavish renovations that were happening in the mother ship at Herald Square. What we found was a dingy mess of a store, but one that inhabited a historic Art Deco structure that still had some elegant bones that could have been unearthed and polished. The potential for a thoughtful, transformative renovation was high, especially since the store was well situated on a resurgent Fulton Mall and only blocks a way from Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens —what is now one of the borough's most affluent areas. About six months later, Macy's announced that indeed they were planning to refurbish the Brooklyn store to take advantage of those very things, but now WWD is reporting that the planned renovations are on hold, and may never happen. In fact, real estate in that section of Brooklyn is now so valuable ($300 - $400 per square foot) that Macys could stand to make $300 million by selling the historic building at 422 Fulton Street, demolishing it and redeveloping the site to include a new residential tower which would feature a smaller, more productive brance of Macy's on its first few floors, not unlike the the Nordstrom tower currently under construction in Manhattan. No officials from either Macy's or potential developing partners had any comments for WWD, but its sources point out that the existing building, which was originally the Abraham & Straus flagship before it was absorbed into the Macy's chain in the 1990s, is actually a combination of a few buildings with inconsistent floor plates and levels that don't line up easily from floor to floor. A proper renovation would likely be extra costly even by New York retail standards, so the idea of having a more efficient, newly built store that was "right sized" for the neighborhood would be very attractive to practical minded Macy's executives.

Of course, there is also potential in revitalizing a historic building. In its current, dingy state, Macy's Brooklyn is not attractive to the upscale communities in its backyard, but a real re-imagining of the store could unlock a valuable customer base nearby that could justify the store's large size, particularly in kitchen, bed, bath and other home goods departments that aren's as well represented in the area. That would be a nice thing for fans of historic department stores to imagine, but given the current manic character of New York real estate development and its insatiable appetite for glittering luxury towers, the demolition option seems more likely at the moment. While no firm announcements about the store's future have been made, anyone with any affection for the city's grand, old retail palaces —even the ones which aren't terribly well maintained— may want to take a visit to Macy's Brooklyn flagship. it may not be there for much longer.

Macy's Rethinking Brooklyn Unit's Future (WWD)
What Does The Macy's Renovation Mean For The Rest Of The Chain? (7.17.2013)
Macy's Plans An Overhaul For Brooklyn (1.24.2014)


Outer Borough Home Style Edition

26zCRITICAL3-superJumboThis Week's Thursday Styles sends Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica on a home decor shopping tour of Brooklyn's tonier neighborhoods. Our shopper ascribes the Brooklynian vogue for artisanal, handcrafted home decor to a reaction against the peculiar mix of mid-century modern, thrift shop and camp aesthetics that has typified influential designer Jonathan Adler's style. Now, the whimsy-weary of Kings County have turned to handcrafted, limited edition accouterments, and from what we can tell, they are on their way to turning them into just as much of a hackneyed cliché, proving that there is no trend that New Yorkers cannot hammer until we can no longer bear to look at it.
But, we haven't gotten to the maximum saturation point yet, so Caraminaca hits several hotspots starting at Williamsburg's Joinery, where in addition to the fashion offerings, we find wooden bowls and enamel colanders. Next it's on to Beam, home of brightly colored but kitsch-free options and then to the more sophisticated but somewhat arid Abode, where the offerings lack soul. "...the charm of these pieces is largely digital. Almost certainly, they were designed on a computer, even if it was one with, like, an X-Girl sticker on it," he complains. Then it's on to The Primary Essentials in Boerum Hill, "a calm white space on a thriving strip of Atlantic Avenue now in its second wave of commercial gentrification," that seems to fit his requirements, calling it a "shrine of the small batch". But what will happen when those Clam Lab infinity bowls start looking tired? Time to chase another trend.

Critical Shopper: Spoons for the Picky By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)


Displaced Style Edition

01zCRITICAL3-superJumboToday's Thursday Styles delivers Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica bemoaning the rampant democratization of fashion thanks to the knowledge proliferating effects of the information superhighway. As luxury goods become ever less accessible by price, they are becoming more well known to internet fans in inverse proportion. Best kept secrets are not secrets for very long at all thanks to Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and any number of other social media platforms. At the same time, Our Shopper is a premier perpetrator of this trend himself by alerting us all to Williamsburg's Idol, an exclusive, luxury men's fashion store which is supposedly looking to stay off the beaten path by opening in one of the city's most talked about neighborhoods (Paradoxes abound in this week's Critical Shopper).

Now, what Idol is doing on this block, in this neighborhood, remains a mystery unsolved. It belongs in the troposphere, in a dystopian sci-fi screenplay, or at the very least in the West Village.
It’s not here because of a belief in the ascendant wealth of Williamsburg, or even a belief that the marketplace demands it. It exists more because of a desire to have a place not everyone knows about. The type of place that can take on items that make little to no sense, just because a few people understand.

It sounds sort of like a somewhat less Goth-y version of Atelier, the by-appointment, exclusive-to-a-fault men's boutique whose quest for innocuousness took it from Crosby Street in SoHo to Hudson Street to 11th Avenue to, eventually, oblivion according to Yelp! which currently lists it as reportedly closed. Apparently, Atelier's next step to exclusive inaccessibility could only have been on a barge in the middle of the Hudson River, but we digress. Idol may seem slightly out of place in Williamsburg at the moment, but it's hard to imagine any store opening there as a way to keep a low profile, especially knowing the fate of Atelier with which it shares several vendors. Furthermore, a write-up in the Times only a few weeks after opening is hardly the M.O. of a store trying to lurk in the shadows. Besides, that neighborhood is expanding in so many directions so quickly that it's not hard to imagine serious customers coming around to Idol before long, so enjoy its enjoy its "exclusivity" while you can. 

Critical Shopper: A Mystery Beyond Price Tags By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Idol 101 Metropolitan Avenue between Wythe Avenue & Berry Street, Williamsburg