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


Scent Of Brooklyn Edition

17zCRITICAL1-superJumboIn today's Thursday Styles, our Critical Shopper Alexandra Jacobs shops for fragrances in the upscale enclaves of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn fwhere the perfume counter at Macy's simply will not do. She finds herself at two fragrance purveyors, Parisian transplant Atelier Cologne and Twisted Lily, whose scents are exclusive and artisanal in that precious way that reeks of today's Brooklyn. Do they sell anything that smells nice? We have no idea. Frankly, perfume shopping makes The Shophound dizzy. Literally. We get lightheaded and nauseated after smelling too many smells, and it looks like Jacobs' patience for such things may not surpass our by much. "In my experience, you don’t discover perfumes in stores so much as covet them on acquaintances, then submit to disappointment as the stuff runs afoul of your own body chemistry," she writes, and winds up with mere bath salts from Twisted Lily.

Atelier Cologne 357 Atlantic Avenue
Twisted Lily 360 Atlantic Ave, both between Hoyt & Bond Streets, Boerum Hill


Chain In Disguise Edition

10zCRITCAL4-superJumboToday's Thursday Styles sends Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica to Williamsburg's new Urban Outfitters concept store, Space Ninety 8, a supersized version of the familiar chain. Given Williamsburg's constantly evolving gentrification, it's hard to tell if this new, deluxe version of the chain is ruining the neighborhood's prized hipster bohemia or holding its ground against the onslaught of even more luxurious, gleaming high rises coming to suburbanize the place. "Williamsburg is already a 4.0 or 5.0 version of itself — there’s nothing left to protect," our shopper reminds us. This store seems to be prepared for your scrutiny. It is working hard to win over skeptics by making room for Brooklyn's local artisans to show their wares as if to make up for the rest of the store's mass-produced merch as well as the long-standing whisperings that the chain is really run by evil, corporate overlords. It's an Urban Outfitters tarted up for people who hate Urban Outfitters.

These are reminders, these missives, that Urban Outfitters knows you have come with your white gloves and magnifying glass, prepared for inspection. Has it succeeded in making this store, parts of which are merchandised specifically to reflect artisanal Brooklyn, sufficiently non-Urban Outfitters-esque? Is the wool over your eyes thick enough?

It turns out that the wool is only as thick as you want it to be. The local wares are worthwhile, but expensive art pieces show Space Ninety 8 trying to play both sides of the fence.

Critical Shopper: In a Fight for Everything Brooklyn By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Space Ninety 8 98 North Sixth Street between Berry Street & Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg


Unlikely Thug Edition

06ZCRITICAL2-superJumboIn today's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica appears to have been in an oddly poetic mood while writing about Williamsburg's Kinfolk, framing his review with extened thoughts on the evolution of an aging thug.

A thug ages. Slows down. Softens. Begins to look both ways when crossing the street. Walks a little more slowly around older people. Looks babies in the eye, and smiles.

And it goes on from there. Maybe he was a little drunk. Who can say?

We aren't really sure if our shopper was referring to himself (which seems kind of unlikely) or the owners of Kinfolk, who, while burly and tattooed, may not or may not particularly appreciate being identified as any sort of thug, former or otherwise, in The New York Times. It is, after all, kind of a strong word with all sorts of potentially inappropriate implications. Ultimately, we really don't know who this mythical thug is supposed to be, especially since the archetypal Williamsburg male is more of a skinny hipster. Anyway, the store doesn't sound all that thuggish at all what with the $1,100 biker jackets and the Maharishi trench coats and the nautical striped shirts. It sounds like a store pitched to the guy who has been studying his menswear blogs and is ready to share what he has learned with the like-minded, which is perfectly fine, even appealing without all the ex-thuggishness.

Critical Shopper: Catering to the Refined Ruffian By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Kinfolk 94 Wythe Avenue at N. 11th Street, Williamsburg


This Weekend Is Your Last Chance To See Jean Paul Gaultier In Brooklyn


If you haven't gotten out to the Brooklyn Museum yet to see The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, then by all means, don't waste a minute getting there. The exhibition closes on Sunday, and there are still some tickets left, but they may not be available for long. As in the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum a few seasons ago, this expansive show reveals new depths to Gaultier's work that might not have been appreciated before. Taken all together, those crazy and irreverent outfits that have made him famous show a level of imagination and invention that you might not get from seeing his collections one at a time. If the clothes aren't enough for you , there are drawings, photographs and more TV, movie and video clips featuring his work than you will be able to watch in one visit. Then there is the remarkable exhibition design featuring an automated runway show (pictured), startling sound elements and an ingenious projection scheme that places footage of moving, often speaking or singing faces on many of the mannequins including one of the designer himself. Though the museum couldn't extend the show, they have added two extra hours to see it on Sunday, the final day when it will be open until 8 PM.
Don't miss it.
After the jump, have another look at the video featuring Gaultier and Karlie Kloss made by Stephane Sednaoui for the exhibition

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Brooklyn Museum through Sunday, February 23rd, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn

Continue reading "YOUR WEEKEND PLANS:

This Weekend Is Your Last Chance To See Jean Paul Gaultier In Brooklyn" »


Outer-Borough Indie Edition

06zCRITICAL4-superJumboIn this week's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Alexandra Jacobs heads to Williamsburg and spends bit of time bemoaning the turbo-charged gentrification of the neighborhood from youthful bohemian enclave to luxury hi-rise destination. Shocked to see Chanel and Prada placards in an optical window (which she shouldn't be, since designer eyewear is always the most widely distributed and least exclusive licensed product of any luxury brand) our shopper turns to Swords-Smith, a boutique ostensibly meant to be a response to the encroachment of upscale chain shopping in the neighborhood by focusing on truly independent and artisanal designers. "Swords-Smith is anti-fast fashion, a locus of the “slow clothes” movement that has for some reason not caught on like fair trade coffee beans. Its wares do not so much adorn as amuse and challenge," our shopper writes, though it sounds like something of a hollow response as its wares seem to be as expensive if not more so than the A.P.C.s and Steven Alans encroaching on Williamsburg's retailing integrity. And what does our shopper find? Leggings. Expensive ones. The lesson here? Things change, and, at least where New York is concerned, once the upscaling starts, there's no stopping it.

Critical Shopper: Hearing Its Own Drummer By Alexandra Jacobs (NYTimes)
Swords-Smith 98 South Fourth Street, Williamsburg


Macy's Plans An Overhaul For Brooklyn

About six months ago, as Macy's was unveiling dramatic renovations to its immense Herald Square flagship, The Shophound took a jaunt over to Downtown Brooklyn to compare the improvements in Manhattan to the state of one of the chains other large, historic stores on Fulton Street (pictured above). We spent some time wandering the floors, noting the building's physical condition as well as its merchandising layout and reported back. It turns out that even as they lavished improvements on their cash cow on 34th Street, Macy's execs have taken a critical look at the big Brooklyn store as well. We wouldn't want to presume that The Shophound had anything to do with this happening, but, well, why not? After all, we both came to the same basic conclusion:
Macy's on Fulton street is a dump.

But not for long. Today's WWD reports that there are big plans to upgrade the building which has been a department store since 1883 when it became the flagship for Abraham & Straus, a local chain that Macy's took over in 1995. As we noted last year, little in the store has been updated since then, though it still includes original Art Deco design elements like a rotunda and a striking elevator bay that will hopefully be preserved. Macy's executives have big plans for the building which will likely become a template for renovations in the chain's many other urban flagships —They're just not exactly sure yet what those plans will be, specifically. “Brooklyn is a fantastic market,” Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, CEO and president of Macy’s Inc., tells WWD. “We are just waiting to figure out the right way to approach the Brooklyn store.” Lundgren notes that as in many department store flagships that date back to the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the current layout actually consists of more than one building cobbled together resulting in complicated floor plates that pose challenges when it comes time for major renovations, so it could be some time before they figure out how to approach the changes to be made.

While there is no specific plan or time frame for the store's renovation yet, Macy's is promising more than just cosmetic improvements for the ever more decrepit store. What is in the works is expected to be a total overhaul of the entire merchandising concept in Brooklyn to serve the rapidly changing market there as well as in other cities whose downtown neighborhoods are undergoing renewal. In recent years, Downtown Brooklyn has attracted new branches from major chains like H&M a few steps away from Macy's as well as Sephora, A|X and Uniqlo. Nordstrom Rack is coming to Fulton Street and Neiman Marcus Last Call has just announced an upcoming store in the Brooklyn Municipal Building. With such competition moving in, as well as continuing gentrification in nearby neighborhoods like Cobble Hill and Carroll gardens, It would have been irresponsible from a business standpoint for Macy's to continue operating one of the biggest stores in the chain in such an outmoded condition. As we noted last July, the renovations that are turning Macy's Herald Square into an upscale palace for luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, are making parts of the rest of the chain look like a totally different company in contrast. With a new concept for the Brooklyn store, not only will Macy's show that they care about more than the famous Herald Square flagship, but it might just turn around some customers who had long ago written off the store as an irrelevant mess.

Macy's Eyes New Look for Brooklyn Store (WWD)
Retail Renewal: What Does The Macy's Renovation Mean For The Rest Of The Chain?


Franco-Williamsburg Edition

19zCRITICAL1-articleLargeIn today's Critical Shopper column, Jon Caramanica eschews the obvious Holiday shopping, and instead heads for the sales at Sandro, but not at one of its several Manhattan locations. Instead he checks out the French chain's new Willliamsburg outpost. He makes the odd observation that France has the least imaginative clothes of the "fashion-minded" countries (Jean-Paul Gaultier might beg to differ, just for starters, but whatever). He seems to be referring to more prosaic, day-to-day clothes which, as presented at Sandro, are black, black, skinny and skinnier —which actually makes them perfect for Williamsburg, but perhaps not so promising for our Shopper.

And so Sandro presents a challenge of rigor: limited color palette, limited silhouette palette, limited attitude palette. There’s a type of character who would look effortlessly phenomenal in these clothes: Pete Doherty, Jenny Shimizu in her prime, vintage Bryan Ferry, Wiz Khalifa. Call them dismissive ectomorphs. The clean lines serve only to spiff up a bad attitude.

Yet what seems like disenchantment turns to some kind of begrudging admiration, especially at 30% off, and he walks away with shoes and a sweater. Even so, he recognized that the arrival of tony stores like Sandro are further transforming Williamsburg into something apart from the edgy bohemian neighborhood that attracted attention in the first place.

Critical Shopper: The New Skinny on Brooklyn By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Sandro 65 North Sixth Street between Wythe & Kent Avenues, Brooklyn