The church on Sixth Avenue and 19th Street finally began its latest incarnation last Friday at 2 P.M. when the Limelight Marketplace threw a red carpet on the sidewalk and opened its doors. It's sort of ironic that to usher in the building's new life, stanchions and velvet ropes came out to remind everyone that it was finally finished being a nightclub.
How much you like the Limelight's new retail rebirth might have more than a little bit to do with how much you might have liked it as a club. Surprisingly, many of the same pros and cons come into play. On the plus side, as a landmarked church, it's still an unusual space with no shortage of curves and alcoves, and its occupants remain a somewhat random but lively collection.
Hunter Boots has taken a prime corner in the main chapel, and the Havaianas stands nearby could charitably be called a "kiosk". They represent some of the more well known names who fit well into the new scheme of booths for vendors who might be to small or simply to specialized to support a full, free standing store, or perhaps would like an additional location with a low overhead. Other vendors range from candy to custom shirts including Le Sportsac, Petrossian and Selima Optique. The back lounge has been turned over to a gourmet market operated by Jezalin's, and around the corner one finds counters of sweets including the requisite gelato and, yes, cupcakes. Some vendors like SoHo's Mariebelle chocolates pop up throughout the complex, so if you miss them at one spot, they'll catch you at another.
If you climb the stairs at the end of the main chapel (behind what used to be the stage if you recall the club layout) you will be able to see the otherwise obscured stained glass window (above) reminding you that the place was once an actual church. Some of the same things that were annoying about the place as a club remain irksome in this new version of the Limelight, namely all the damn stairs. We can see no other way to reach the upper levels, but the space is clearly not friendly to the handicapped or just plain tired. The new booths, which oddly recall the old "street of shops" in the old Henri Bendel on West 57th Street, take up some space, and we suspect that during busy shopping times, getting around the place might not feel terribly different than pushing your way through a crowded nightclub, though hopefully one would be somewhat more sober than one might have been at the old Limelight.
Upstairs, Tina Tang has taken a booth by the stairs for her baubles and Greenpoint jewelry store Old Hollywood has taken a prime spot at the end of the balcony. The DJ booth now holds Polo rugby shirts from Lulu's boutique. Around another corner, a beauty section is anchored by Caswell-Massey in something of a comedown from its longtime Lexington Avenue location, though it has kept the pre-revolutionary apothecary from leaving New York City altogether.
It's this aspect of the new Limelight that makes it most worthwhile, allowing smaller companies to present their goods to the public without taking on the burdens of a larger retail location. It's a model that we could see more of in New York, and at best, the new Limelight could serve as a launching pad for all sorts of shops. Right now the place has a bright, optimistic vibe, and though it's rather more cramped and convoluted than the Chelsea Market that served as its inspiration, it adds some much needed excitement to the Sixth Avenue shopping strip that a century ago was home to the city's greatest department stores. As a bonus, it is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the expected increase in traffic in several weeks when the new Trader Joe's opens a couple of blocks away.
Limelight Marketplace 656 Sixth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea