One of the sure signs of creeping gentrification is new women’s apparel stores. In recent years, we’ve seen a steady increase in shopping opportunities around downtown Brooklyn, from Fort Greene to DUMBO, reflecting the huge growth in high income households in the area.
With inventive names such as Girl Cat and Eva Gentry, stores such as these line Atlantic Avenue, helping the commercial strip transition from the Victorian Era to modern times. The thriving Boerum Hill scene includes Diane T, and continues down into the side streets, as well.
In Cobble Hill, two large outlets – Urban Outfitters and Barney’s Co-op – anchor one end of the avenue, while Goldy & Mac from Park Slope has now joined established shops such as Lily and Rapisarda on the stretch of Court Street south of Atlantic Avenue. Goldy beat out four other contenders for the space, formerly the BoCoCa Coffee House. Smith Street also features a series of worthy retailers, among them the standout “Bird,” another Park Slope transplant.
While many lament the loss local favorites such as Mediterranean-Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant Miriam, we will continue to see more apparel shops as area incomes go higher and higher. This can be a good thing for local economies; Fort Greene has always had smart shops and some of the strong stores there that are getting press attention include Stuart & Wright, Thistle & Clover, and Cloth.
Stores selling fancy children’s apparel are perhaps even more popular than those stocked with clothes made for their adult female counterparts. In DUMBO, the elegant and high-end Zoe beat out Bird years ago for their space on Washington Street across from Pomme and up the hill from Halfpint. Nearby sits the well-run Blueberi, a veteran clothing store joined recently by Nos, which is rumored to soon be expanding.
In addition to established players like Brooklyn Industries and Linda the Bar Lady on Jay Street, are numerous start-ups the likes of Brooklyn Fusion, which mines the possibilities in online sales from physical office space at 145 Front Street – a hub of small shops that make the most out of their small, if central, footprint in DUMBO. For every White Gown, there are nearly five upstairs shops/online retailers. That DUMBO combination – selling at both the street level and from offices – is hard to find elsewhere in such a concentrated space in Brooklyn.
Other than the presence of higher income customers with more disposable income, why are clothing stores good tenants for a neighborhood?
Among the many real estate advantages apparel has over restaurants is speed of execution. Restaurants, the other most active tenant type in the market, take forever to build out. Apparel shops are the opposite. Experienced owners have nailed design and set up. Free People on Smith was up and running well before their free rent period ended, which was no surprise for a division of Urban Outfitters. A financial edge, clothing inventory is often ‘borrowed’ from producers, whereas restaurants pay daily for food and by law must pay their liquor bills within a set number of days after delivery. Compared to food and alcohol sellers – arguably the most regulated, taxed and ticketed “ordinary” retail businesses in New York City – a shoe shop operates in a Ayn Rand-ian universe.
The bottom line is, it takes much less to open and operate the shops, making them an easier tenant to lease to and to keep. Not to mention the low carbon footprint of a shop compared to a bar/restaurant.
Chris Havens is a licensed broker and Director of Commercial Property with APTSANDLOFTS.com, responsible for developing the company’s retail presence and entry into the Brooklyn office space market. Chriswhavens@gmail.com