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Racked Recap 2008: Worst New Retail Stretch

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With only a few days left in 2008, it's time to look back at a year of dizzying highs and crushing lows, of one major economic collapse and many minor shopping frenzies. Folks, it's the annual (two years running!) Racked Recap. This week, we'll be reliving our biggest and brightest (and saddest and darkest) moments. Take a deep breath of the sweet, sweet nostalgia.

When considering possibilities for the worst new retail stretch of 2008, the Bleecker mini-mall of course flashed to mind, but seeing as how that's far from new, the winner of this title can be nothing other than The Plaza Hotel's retail concourse.

An underground conundrum, the "Plaza Retail Collection" (what a boring name) occupies two floors in the basement of The Plaza Hotel at 5th Avenue and Central Park South. As The Plaza shed its interior renovation scaffoldings throughout 2008, this new, buried district of luxury shopping slowly opened with rare boutiques like Vertu, MCM and Assouline. All sounds lovely and expensive on paper, but actually shopping the unattractive space is depressing and confusing.

Although some of the boutiques have been open down there since before summer, the supposed holiday shopping rush still finds the place incomplete. Earlier this month, Vanity Fair exposed all the cheap deals and even cheaper renovations going on throughout the buildings, noting the unpopularity of the new shops:

Sources involved say that [the developer] believed that all the big guns—Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren—would come running, just like those Russian oligarchs. What they didn't realize was that the brands' established presences at Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, and elsewhere nearby, on Madison and Fifth Avenues, made opening new locations at the Plaza seem superfluous.

We visited the Plaza Retail Collection again a few days before Christmas, when walking on Fifth Avenue was nearly impossible due to the horde of shoppers. After getting lost and then locating the almost hidden entry to the shops, we found ourselves to be the only customer down there and therefore the focus of the attention of all salespersons.

Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, we noted that Seize sur Vingt is practically hidden in a corner, MCM is more of an aisle than a shop, the Plaza's own souvenir nook is entirely uninteresting, a huge "exhibit" takes up almost half of the space, and there's something down there called "The Leather Spa." We felt terribly bad for Ghurka, who had traded their Madison Avenue presence for a sad slice of this labyrinthine basement. To put it bluntly, we feel bad for all the stores down there and those rare customers who find themselves compelled to purchase simply because they are at The Plaza.
· Eloise Sheds a Tear [Vanity Fair]
· For a Luxury Mall, an Ill-Timed Debut [NYT]
· Vanity Fair Airs The Plaza's Dirty Laundry [Racked]