New York State of Mind

A look back on the year in retail in the Big Apple
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Posted January 14, 2019

This article was originally published in VMSD's December 2018 issue.

The holiday season is an exhilarating time anywhere around the globe, but December in New York is like no other. As 2018 comes to a close, the drama and excitement of “great retail” is center stage in stores across the city, demonstrating that Gotham remains the ultimate proving ground for new concepts, new ideas and new products. Not only is it a place to plant your flag, but it’s also a window to the world. With that in mind, many retailers are making significant statements in the Big Apple. From Fifth Avenue and SoHo to the Flatiron District and NoHo, New York is bustling with exciting new retail venues.

While some doors have closed, many are opening with new strategies and fresh approaches. Most of the new players in New York’s rough and tumble retail arena position the store as more than merely a place to sell, but rather as a place to engage.

On Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman (New York) and Saks Fifth Avenue (New York) remain venerable stalwarts anchoring the iconic retail corridor, while new entries such as the Dyson (Malmesbury, U.K.) Demo Store and L’Occitane (Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland) are turning heads.

Dyson’s 3000-square-foot outpost at 52nd Street showcases its technology and celebrates its brand. Product is elevated in a gallery-like setting, wherein various lines and collections are highlighted for customers. Visitors are welcomed into the store via an oversized replica of the Dyson motor, an innovation that has catapulted the purveyor of vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and air purifiers to the top of its class.

Not to be missed is L’Occitane’s new concept store, which opened in August, where upon entering, visitors are transported to the south of France. They are encouraged to linger as a virtual reality balloon ride floats them over fields of lavender in Provence.

Sleep Number set up shop farther down the avenue in the shadows of the Flatiron Building. Designed as a series of rooms, the high-tech environment engages and educates. The bedding design lab simplifies decision making with an interactive environment, showcasing the brand’s state-of-the-art technology.

In SoHo, Melissa (Farroupilha, Brazil) brings its wit and Brazilian sensibilities to the cobblestone streets of the historic neighborhood. Passersby are drawn into the space by a slightly inclined bridge at the entry, funneling them into a store that is more than just a store. Art exhibitions by up-and-coming female artists are regularly scheduled in the space as a nod to the creative energy generated by the district that was once home to artists, loft spaces and galleries in the ’60s and ’70s. Additionally, the environment speaks to eco-conscious consumers: It features a living wall of greenery, demonstrations by local artisans and unique offerings of “cruelty free” footwear, made of “100% real plastic.”

Reportedly the first gender-neutral retail space in the world, Phluid is making a significant statement with its 3000-square-foot space in NoHo. Large welcoming windows, a soothing white color palette, a coffee bar and relaxing community area offer a convivial environment for gender-fluid consumers.

Also in NoHo, the luggage company Away sets the tone with its tagline, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Complete with coffee and customization bars, the brand offers product in an environment that is calming and suitable for any weary traveler.

In short, the sidewalks of New York offer indisputable proof that retail isn’t breathing its last breath, but rather inhaling the winds of change as the challenges of the day become the opportunities of tomorrow.