Two months ago, Around the World Fashion, a shop selling trade magazines and design books, relocated to a storefront on 37th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
The company’s decision to move to that block should come as no surprise: what better place for a vendor of fashion glossies and catalogues, after all, than the heart of the Fashion District?
Despite a shift in clothing production to East Asia, the neighborhood has still held onto a handful of garment factories and fabric suppliers, and attracted new shops in recent years. What’s changed is where businesses are leasing space: side streets, rather than the well-trafficked thoroughfares running between Times and Herald Squares.
“On the avenues, it’s not going to be fashion related,” said James Buslik of Adams and Co, who helped Around the World Fashion secure its new shop. “The rents are too high. Food will be the most prevalent. Maybe a bank will come in.”
In January, Buslik and his son, Jeff, brought the Chicago-based restaurant, Potbelly, to the corner of 37th Street and Seventh Avenue. Around the same time, the pair helped a lace, applique, and feather store, B&Q Trimmings, open on 38th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue.
Potbelly, which has restaurants in the Financial District and Upper East Side, and is opening others in Rockefeller Center and Union Square, pays $145 per s/f in rent each month; the trimmings shop shells out a bargain $55 per s/f. Around the World Fashion pays $60 per s/f, which is typical for stores on its block.
In February, the father-son team helped a textile supplier, SAI International, renew its lease at 231 West 39th Street. When the company first moved into the building years ago, it took 2,000 s/f of space. The fifth-floor office now spans 10,000 s/f, and was renting at $30 per s/f.
“There’s room for both,” Buslik said of garment businesses and food establishments, which pay higher rents in exchange for prominent spots along Broadway and Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
Sometimes, the latter even lease space from landlords in the apparel industry, like a Chinese restaurant on Sixth Avenue that occupies a storefront in a building owned by M&J Trimmings, a longtime fixture of the Fashion District.
To draw in tourists that might stop at Potbelly or order Chinese after browsing B&Q, Buslik has been encouraging the Fashion Center, a business improvement group, to sponsor walking tours of the neighborhood, much like he did in the Flatiron District as a board member of a local BID.
“It’s really a retail store,” he said of the trimmings importer. “Some designers go there, but there’s a whole trimmings district there that people visit.”
With Fashion Week underway, the Fashion Center has been busy launching its own campaigns to preserve the neighborhood’s historic identity.
Beginning last Thursday, the group lent out 30 “designer” bicycles, decked out with colorful boxes by Diane von Furstenberg, Isaac Mizrahi, and other designers, from a docking station on the corner of Broadway and 40th Street, in a weeklong campaign titled Tour de Fashion.
“During Fashion Week, all eyes are on New York City, and there is no more appropriate occasion to highlight the wealth of talent and history we have right here in this neighborhood,” said Barbara Randall, the BID’s president.
On the Fashion Center’s website, visitors can search for neighborhood suppliers of, say, buttons or lace. An information kiosk on Seventh Avenue and 39th Street, which provides a similar list of fabric, design showrooms, and craft shops, sits beneath a sculpture of a giant black button.
Behind the scenes, the BID has thrown itself into beautifying the neighborhood, much like the 34th Street Partnership did in Herald Square, on the neighborhood’s southern border.
When Around the World opened its shop, the Fashion Center gave it a grant to replace its solid shutter with a less graffiti-prone transparent one. The hope is that small aesthetic improvements will attract a stream of quality tenants to the avenues, including office workers, who can take advantage of the neighborhood’s position between two major transit hubs.
Amira Yunis, Jared Lack, and Matthew Krell of Newmark Knight Frank are marketing some prominent retail spaces in the neighborhood, including a storefront on Broadway between 36th and 37th Streets, with 42 feet of frontage and 62 foot ceilings, and brand new white-boxed shops on the corner of Broadway and 36th Street. The latter’s location in the Garment District is emphasized in promotional materials.
The task of breathing life into the Fashion District while preserving its roots in the garment trade is particularly urgent, considering what happened to blocks on its periphery.
Just south of Penn Station, in what was once the Fur District, a dwindling number of fur suppliers, combined with a lack of quality retailers to replace them, have left the neighborhood in limbo. About six of them are concentrated on a single block: 29th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
The neighborhood is grappling for a new identity, but few names have stuck. North Chelsea? Midtown South?
With belt and handbag wholesalers packed along side streets south of the fur shops, it might as well be the Accessories District. But when vacancies crop up above the ground floor storefronts, they’re being filled by white collar professionals.
“It’s changed, it’s become an office district,” said Buslik of Adams and Co. “The only thing that makes it fashion is FIT,” the design school on the corner of 28th Street and Seventh Avenue.
Still, some vacant retail spaces are drawing on accessories shops as a marketing tool. At a 6,000 s/f storefront on 28th Street marketed by Thor Equities, a sign is a perfect match for the block. It’s splashed with neon blue and pink, just like the belts displayed in a window next door.