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The average New York City shopper is neither walking around in a Chanel suit nor decked from head to toe in Gap. Often she's in between—pairing Rag & Bone's Newbury booties with an awesome-fitting pair of Uniqlo jeans. And today, all of these brands and more can be purchased on Fifth Avenue, where retail rents can go for as much as $3,100 per square foot.
An article published in WWD today noted that this wasn't always so—the emergence of luxury labels storefronts elevated the avenue to shopping mecca status. And several people the paper interviewed think it should remain that way—but is that an antiquated view?
"Luxury retailers—they're the best thing for Fifth Avenue," said Donald Trump, whose namesake tower on 57th Street houses Gucci. "I think it's better for the city. It brings a certain sophistication. I don't think the others are great."
And by "the others," the Donald is referring to brands with lower price points that are slowly creeping their way up the block—like when Hollister opened its doors in 2010, or Uniqlo's arrival in 2011, or Zara moving on the block to a massive storefront in 2012.
Trump must have thrown a party when Forever 21 exited what had previously housed the Japanese department store Takashimaya in 2012. Its upcoming luxury tenant, Valentino, even broke a rent record when signing its lease.
"To get Valentino, I had to wait," explained Thor Equities CEO Joseph Sitt to WWD, which manages the property. "It was well worth it." The article did not mention Forever 21's temporary residence in the space.
"Fifth [Avenue] is becoming an eclectic mix of luxury, upscale and mass, but I have been a big proponent of protecting the Fifth Avenue brand," he continued.
A rendering of the new store at 608 Fifth Avenue; Image via WWD
If Valentino is a part of the "brand" Sitt is looking to protect, then he couldn't be too happy about Topshop's entry into the niche retail scene. The British retailer has announced efforts to compete with its upscale neighbors when it opens in October, like offering higher-end products and personal shopping, but it still won't be anywhere close to Bergdorf Goodman.
"I was brought up in luxury, so I know watching lower- and moderate-priced stores move in makes a mix that is not interesting for luxury retailers," said that department store's former CEO, Ira Neimark. "Luxury does best when there's a concentration of luxury...When the concentration gets diluted, the luxury customer gravitates to other areas."
And speaking of luxury, rumors are swirling about which high-end brands could be calling Fifth Avenue home. "Real estate sources" say that Chanel is looking for a spot, despite its location on 57th Street, and that fashion giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton "is always scouting sites." But more accessible names could come in, too. "Mango and Express are also hungry for Fifth Avenue sites," the paper wrote.
Photo by Brian Harkin
"There are isolated incidents of low-end retailing coming in, but if you look at the history of Fifth Avenue, it's been a steady upgrading," Tom Cusick, president of the Fifth Avenue Association, told the paper. "For the last quarter-century, we've upgraded significantly from the very low retailing in between the high-end retailers. We've always had Tiffany, Cartier, Harry Winston, Saks Fifth Avenue. They're the anchors."
But with the slate of mass market brands on the block, it certainly doesn't feel like "isolated incidents." And if you check out Fifth Avenue foot traffic on any given day, you'll find that customers—mostly tourists, of course—aren't discriminating between Abercrombie & Fitch and Louis Vuitton.
And the typical New York luxury customers don't seem to be fleeing just because there's a Joe Fresh in the neighborhood. So what's wrong with mixing up Fifth Avenue? As the old saying goes, "(Retail) variety is the spice of life."
·NYC's Fifth Avenue Element [WWD]
·Retail Rents on Fifth Avenue Topped $3,100 in 2013 [Racked NY]