Pottery Barn & Williams Sonoma Leaving 59th Street
Are Rent Increases Forcing
Every Store To Move?

PotteryBarnWS-NYPostWhat does it mean when the national chains aren't interested in renewing a lease with a rent increase? We don't know it that is exactly the reason why the sibling Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn stores on 59th Street have become available, but The New York Post is reporting that 32,000 square foot space that the stores have shared for the past 15 years is on the market. Perhaps the stores are moving to higher profile space nearby and rent isn't the issue. While a half a block between Bloomingdale's and Park Avenue can be considered a pretty favorable location, sometimes major stores can get lost mid-block on a side street, and there may be some better space available from which to serve the Upper East Side on Third Avenue, but the stores took the space in the late 90s, when rents were much lower, and 15 years suggests the end of a typical 10-year lease including a 5-year renewal option. Many will remember the location as the home of the legendary disco-era store Fiorucci, which famously employed nightlife figures who modeled the store's wares at Studio 54 for regular customers like Andy Warhol and Jackie Onassis. As that store fizzled, Urban Outfitters took over the final years of its lease before Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma took over after a major remodel that added custom façades for the retailers. With rents what they are, it seems hard to imagine that a flashy, fun, store like Fiorucci would ever be able to thrive in such large location at a $400 a square foot rent.

It's become something of a scandal in both the retail and restaurant worlds in New York that longtime merchants are routinely being forced to uproot and move or shut down as their leases come to an end due to steep rent increases thanks the the current real estate boom in the city. The result has been a lot of empty storefronts in affluent shopping areas all over Manhattan as landlords (many of whom are in other cities or countries) patiently wait months and even years for that deep pocketed bank or chain store or restaurant to pony up the dough for the space.
But Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma are national chains.
If they aren't willing to absorb a rent increase, then who is? And how can any store expect to stay in the same place for more than 15 years at the most? Maybe they no longer will. Perhaps the days of an independent or even small chain store remaining in place over decades are over. Maybe retailers should just set up shop in mobile home units, ready to take off and move at a moment's notice.

Fiorucci’s former location coming up for rent (NYPost)


Check Off Your Christmas List
At The C. Wonder Sample Sale

It has been a busy morning for the folks at 260 Sample Sale launching two big sales at once at their Fifth Avenue facilities. First off is burgeoning retailer C. Wonder's first sample sale which kicked off in the main location at 260 Fifth. What was meant to be an early morning press preview at 8 AM turned into simply an early opening for people who planned ahead. Since C. Wonder's prices tent to be pretty reasonable to begin with, what we found ourselves at was a sale full of gift ideas at bargain prices, especially for anyone who is a fan of the chain's Palm Beach-Preppy aesthetic. There were tables full of home items under $25 —many as low as $5 or $10 including picture frames, coasters, mugs, scented candles, lacquer boxes, pet accessories, etc. Women's apparel was arranged neatly along the room's southern wall, again priced well with everything under $75 and much of it under $50. Perhaps the most popular section will be in the back where all shoes were $50. Though it was generally quiet when The Shophound was there, the biggest hub of activity was the accessory counter where shoppers were snapping up colorful handbags and totes. Basically, this sale should be a boon to anyone with a long Holiday gift list. Under the skirted tables we saw several boxes of back stock, but how long that will last remains to be seen. Have a look in our gallery below for price lists and a few shots of what we saw at the sale.

C. Wonder Sample Sale through November 9 between 28th & 29th Street, Flatiron District
See the SALE ROLL at left for details 

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Sweet Dreams Edition

24CRITICAL_SPAN-articleLargeThis week's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper, Alexandra Jacobs investigates SoHo's Sleep Studio, a concept store devoted to everything bedroom related. She opens with a recounting of her own peculiar "early-rising" sleep disorder that seems vaguely Kuczynski-esque with only a tiny soupçon of over-sharing and, sadly, none of the bewildering crazy that our original Critical Shopper used to serve up regularly.

But on to the store, which takes a clever concept with potentially wide appeal but pitches it more toward SoHo's well-heeled residents than its sneaker-shod tourist population. Additionally, it errs on the restorative, restful side of bedroom activity as opposed to the racier side of things. Even the "relaxation aids" have been sanitized to avoid any confusion,

“They’re supposed to be classy,” said a clerk with a chestful of tattoos that also seemed more neighborly than transgressive, as she cheerfully wiggled the two prongs of what looked like a large pink molar back and forth. “What do you even do with this? I don’t know.” 

Well, as they say, "If you have to ask..."

Critical Shopper:Counting Sheep, Wallet in Hand By Alexandra Jacobs
Sleep Studio 73 Wooster Street between Spring & Broome Streets, SoHo


MUJI's Fifth New York Store Hits Cooper Square Today

It may have been the disgusting weather this morning that made the Press Preview for MUJI's new store on Cooper Square a bit more subdued than one would have expected. Of course, this in New York's fifth store from the Japanese chain, so we are all pretty familiar with what they have to offer by now, and yet the company has made each store a bit different.

In a certain sense, it's a surprise that it took Muji so long to get to the East Village, which, for years has been home to a number of smaller restaurants and stores specializing in Japanese food and products that are harder to find elsewhere. The new Muji store is a few doors away from a Japanese barbecue, so it fits in the neighborhood just fine, especially on a block that has recently become home to some dramatic, futuristic architecture. Muji is not, however in one of those buildings, but in a more traditional sort of space that makes it the first New York store to offer two levels of shopping. On the street level, there are all the familiar offerings from clothing to home and kitchen items to ever more of the brand's fascinating pens and paper products. Downstairs, however, holds an expanded offering of the brand's furniture. Browse around long enough and find yourself longing to live in an environment defined by simple, functional wooden furniture and walls filled with pristine stacks of polypropylene shelves and drawers. As we have mentioned before, part if the appeal of Muji's furniture is that it is scaled to small living spaces, a quality that any New York Apartment dweller can appreciate.

We hadn't had a good browse around Muji for a little while, and there are always ingenious new gadgets and clever items to discover. We were kindly gifted with a Silicone Ice Ball Maker —designed for those who prefer a single sphere of ice— inside a special edition of the store's re-usable canvas My Bag made just for the store that will be distributed to the first 1,000 customers. Check out our gallery below for a look inside the new store.

MUJI Cooper Square 52 Cooper Square between East 6th & 7th Streets, East Village

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Steven Alan's Home Store Is Open

The fine folks at Steven Alan have kindly let us know that the retailer's long-awaited Home Furnishings store is finally open in TriBeCa. Located just a few steps down Franklin Street from the TriBeCa Annex. We have not gotten a chance to stop in yet, but we have been definitively informed that it will carry a full range of products for the home and garden including locally sourced goods like Good Candle, a curated selection of rugs and kilims by Susan Gomersall and Azy Schecter of KEA in Brooklyn, special glassware created in collaboration with Brooklyn Glass Studio, and home items from Fort Standard who also created the shop’s fixtures.

Alan tells us, “Typically, many design stores are predictable and feel like when you go in once, you almost never need to go back. This (Steven Alan Home Shop) is a quirky, eclectic assortment of things you want to buy; a space with both local and imported products from around the world. There’s a certain element of surprise, as the product will change frequently. Going in you won’t necessarily know what you’re going to find, but you’ll always want to take something home.”

The store is also launching Steven Alan's first furniture collection in collaboration with local furniture designer Jason Pickens. The line of made-to-order sofas in custom fabrics is called J Pickens for Steven Alan. The store is open now, so feel free to put it at the top of your weekend shopping plans.

Steven Alan Home Shop 158 Franklin Street between Varick & Hudson Streets, TriBeCa


Here's Something To Do With Your Leftover Ikea Bags

Regular Ikea customers know that the Swedish furniture and home giant does not distribute shopping bags, but should you need one, you can buy a great big blue plastic bag for under a dollar when you check out. Of course, sometimes these bags, now too expensive to just throw out, find other uses. They make excellent laundry carriers, for example, but if you forget to re-use them when you shop at Ikea, they will pile up at home. Ida-Marie Corell, a Berlin-based artist wound up with 555 of them.
She must have a lot of cheap Swedish furniture.
Being as resourceful as she is, Ida-Marie decide to make them into a dress —a really big dress. In fact, it's so big that it fills an entire room, and is part of the exhibition ‘Oh, Plastiksack!‘, which is all about creatively re-using plastic. If you are as fascinated with this idea as we are, then you will have to go to the Gewerbemuseum in Winterthur, Switzerland to see it in person, or you can just head on out to Red Hook's Ikea yourself and get some bags to make your own dress. You probably won't need 555 bags. In fact you may only need ten or so, if that. Not only will you be making an valuable environmental statement, but you will have a smart, new, possibly a bit crinkly dress to show for it.

555 IKEA Blue Bags Turned Into Giant Dress (PSFK)


The Conran Shop Says Goodbye

This story may sound familiar, but this time it's for real.
About a year and a half ago, The Conran Shop left its glamorous but hopelessly poorly located pavilion next to the Queensboro Bridge to relaunch itself on the lower level of ABC Carpet and Home in the Flatiron District. On Monday, sadly, ABC will be looking for a new tenant for its basement as Conran's has decided to finally pack it in once and for all. What's left of the store is now in a final clearance mode that includes a spotty collection of leftovers (mostly mugs and teacups for some reason) reduced to a corner of the space it most recently occupied.

Why the fabled British tastemaker Sir Terence Conran's store ultimately failed in New York City seems to be a story of bad timing and poor location choices, and it's kind of a shame, since, even in it's diminished ABC basement state, The Conran Shop still offered a well-curated collection of refined, modern desing in furniture, lighting and home accessories. It even added a sleek, modern complement to the whimsical and sometimes peculiarly eclectic collection of tchotchkes and knicknacks on ABC's main floor. Unfortunately, a main floor that customers would find is what this run of Conran's store sorely lacked. The retailer was never able to find the kind of historic, landmark locations in New York that it continues to operate in London and Paris, even though we seem to live in a city overflowing with them.

So it's goodbye to Conran. You made a valiant effort.

Today In Relocations: The Conran Shop Colonizes The Basement At ABC Carpet & Home (4/22/2010)


WHISK's Flatiron Shop Is Ready For Cooking

A few decrepit looking storefronts near the Flatiron Building have just been rehabbed, and there's something satisfying in seeing the first one opening not with yet another of the national brands that pounce as soon as a retail space in the neighborhood becomes available, but a young, local chain. Popular Williamsburg kitchen store WHISK has just opened its first Manhattan location on Broadway between 21st and 22nd streets, offering a smart complement to nearby ABC Carpet & Home, Fish's Eddy and Eataly. If it's selection and depth that you need, then Bed Bath & Beyond is over on Sixth Avenue, but if you want to save time and avoid annoying crowds, then Whisk has the Kitchen Aid mixer that you are going to wind up choosing anyway. In fact, the store has a stock of solid, quality goods that are just as well curated for an enthusiastic home chef as they are for someone who is just starting to put together a kitchen from scratch. The folks here seem to have weeded out the cheap, entry level merch as well as the excessively opulent choices like big, expensive multi-piece cookware sets in favor of well- considered individual items you can buy one at a time. Even the costly Mauviel French copper pans seem chosen for people who want them for actual cooking rather than just hanging them from the kitchen ceiling for show.

Aside from merchandising expertise, Whisk has charm and personalized service on its side as well. Expanded from the Brooklyn original, the baking section is designed to look like a vintage candy store (pictured above). The bar section has also been expanded for the more urbane location, and while Whisk's knife selection looks promising online, that particular corner is still not yet set up. So if you are weary of picking through superstores or hoping to find what you need at discounters, Whisk has now arrived in Manhattan to keep your kitchen in order.

WHISK 933 Broadway between 21st & 22nd Streets, Flatiron District.


Herman Miller Launches Its New Collection With A SoHo Pop-Up

The Shophound is still traipsing around Los Angeles right now, but we couldn't help noticing that back home in New York, Herman Miller, the legendary furniture and design brand is opening a Pop-Up store in SoHo today to introduce the Herman Miller Collection, the company's current portfolio of modern furniture designs from contemporary designers, iconic figures like Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and important designers of the past whose names may be less well known like Ward Bennett, whose striking scissor chair is pictured on the left in the image above. PSFK tells us that the Pop-Up will run during New York Design Week and through the month of July, and will include artwork from galleries in the area as well as a curated accessory area with items chosen specifically to coordinate with Herman Miller's distinctive modernist design aesthetic.

Herman Miller Pop Up Shop, May 9th through July 1st at 68 Wooster Street between Spring & Broome Streets, Soho
Herman Miller New York Popup Shop Can Furnish An Entire Home Art And All


Coco-Mat's Rosemary Charou
Will Sell You A Good Night's Sleep

Cocomat120419_250New York Magazine's "Ask A Shop Clerk" feature seems to be increasing in frequency. Recently, SoHo's Coco-Mat is in the spotlight, which only reminded The Shophound of the last time "Ask A Shop Clerk" interrogated a mattress seller. It's been a while, so we don't know whether Hästens' Ryan Stepka is still hawking pricey mattresses, but he's old news now. SoHo's top mattress seller is now Rosemary Charou, who will send you to sleep on one of Coco-Mat's not-at-all inexpensive all natural beds. Rosemary is not nearly as personally forthcoming as her erstwhile predecessor. In fact she's all business and product knowledge, so we don't learn much about her at all. We do learn that her mattresses are all natural and metal free, meaning no springs and only natural rubber, coconut fiber, real seaweed, horsehair, and wool and other natural materials are used in the products. Sounds nice. How does $1,660 sound as an opening price point? There are some extra added selling points:

NY Mag: What makes that better than a regular mattress?
Rosemary: Rubber is one of the most hypoallergenic materials in nature—except for those allergic to latex, of course. And because these have organic cotton and wool covers, you won’t get dust mites.

NYM: What about bedbugs?
R: That’s the great thing: Natural rubber is inhospitable to bedbugs. They don’t like the smell.

If you can repel bedbugs, you can probably sell those beds for whatever you want in New York City.

Ask a Shop Clerk: Rosemary Charou (NYMagazine)
Coco-Mat 49 Mercer Street near Broome Street, SoHo
Employee Of The Week: Ryan Stepka at Hästens (10/30/2006)