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New York City’s Retail Market Shifting into High Gear for 2022

There’s a buzz in the Big Apple as activity returns to physical stores

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IT WAS THE BEST of times, it was the worst of times. And for better or worse, 2021 was a most memorable year for New York retailers.

With a dramatic downturn in tourism and daily commuting, businesses in the Big Apple struggled to survive. Midtown’s landscape is replete with vacant storefronts once teeming with retail activity and popular restaurants. In a pandemic pivot, however, new stores are opening where others have closed. In fact, the rate of store openings is beginning to outpace the rate of store closings.

As the year draws to a close, a sense of optimism abounds. A jaunt around Manhattan finds people out and about, strolling, playing, meeting and gathering. There’s a sense of excitement in the air as city dwellers and tourists alike take to the sidewalks and the stores. In the last quarter, New York’s retail market has gone from frigid trepidation to sizzling enthusiasm. The buzz is palpable from the newly opened Anita Gelato Factory on Second Avenue, with its outdoor cafe tables, to Waku Waku Japanese restaurant, serving sushi on the sidewalks of Brooklyn.

On the Upper East Side, Madison Avenue is pulsating with myriad new shops, re-openings, and relocations as luxury brands scramble to grab prime retail space. Not to be missed is the Manolo Blahnik flagship designed by David Thomas Design (Paris). Opened in June between 63rd and 64th Streets, passersby are drawn into the 1923 landmark building by its stunning copper façade. Inside, a series of 18-foot fluted pilasters make a thematic statement while serving to humanize the drama of the high cathedral-like ceiling. The luxury environment is further defined by meticulously hand-painted gray-and-white striped walls and Carrara marble floors.

A few short blocks down the Avenue is the relocated Montblanc flagship that opened in April. The 4425-square-foot space offers a full range of Montblanc writing instruments, watches, accessories and leather goods. The nuances of the brand are communicated with logo-inspired door handles at the entry, and wood shelving contrasted against white walls with black trim.

In October, the House of Schiaparelli unveiled a striking boutique on the fourth floor of Bergdorf Goodman. Daniel Roseberry, Creative Director at Schiaparelli, and Architect Daniel Romualdez, collaborated on the design of the space. Complete with fashion drawings, gold leaf accoutrements and photographs of Madame Elsa Schiaparelli, the boutique references visions of the iconic designer’s original Parisienne salons.

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Further downtown in the NoHo section of Manhattan, the innovative Swedish running shoe brand On seamlessly marries aesthetics and technology. The global flagship, opened in January on the corner of Great Jones and Lafayette Streets, features a 62-by-9-by-3-foot “Magic Wall” with hidden gait-cycle analysis technology. The invisible foot scanner and depth cameras instantly identify the best shoe and size for each individual running style. Clad in brushed stainless steel walls with polished concrete flooring, the sleek environment features a display wall with pullout drawers housing the full line of try-on shoes.

Opened in June, the Google Store is a testament to the city’s post-Covid rebound. Located in its Chelsea campus on Ninth Avenue, the LEED Platinum-certified space offers a lifestyle approach to Google’s high-tech product offerings. Customers are invited to immerse themselves in the store’s “sandboxes,” three glass booths set up as experiential testing grounds for the latest Google technology.

New York is up and running again. The city is in full stride, from outdoor cafes and designer footwear boutiques to innovative athletic shoe flagships and a tech giant’s foray into a physical store environment. Retailers from every sector are getting back into the race.

Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.

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