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South Street Seaport is on its way to becoming a New York shopping destination, and that's part of the reason why Katherine and Mac McMillan of Northern Grade chose it for the location of their first permanent space. "We wanted to be a part of the whole Seaport revision, as opposed to getting a little bit lost in other areas of town," Mac explained to Racked recently. "I feel like this is such a unique area, and it's funny because it's one of the oldest parts of Manhattan, but it's also still very undiscovered."
Before the McMillans decided that a permanent store was the next step for Northern Grade, they had put together more than 20 successful pop-up markets throughout the country. It all started in 2010, when the couple was still living in Minneapolis — they live in Dumbo now — and everybody was rocking that heritage look (think buffalo plaid, Red Wing boots). And it just so happened that a lot of the small heritage brands that people were wearing at the time were actually based in Minnesota, including the couple's own brand, Pierrepont Hicks. They ultimately decided to bring everybody together under one roof for a pop-up market, and the turnout was a huge success — they've been doing the pop-ups ever since.
"I feel like this is such a unique area, and it's funny because it's one of the oldest parts of Manhattan, but it's also still very undiscovered."
The flagship market, which opened last month, is nothing like a typical New York boutique — it feels more like you're walking into a store you'd find in The Berkshires rather than one you'd find in Manhattan. Before Northern Grade had this Front Street space, it was actually occupied by a J.Crew, but then Sandy happened, and, well, you know the rest (we saw the water line — it was way high). But aside from adding a few pipes and repurposing a lot of the original shelving, not much of the actual space has been changed. They did, however, add a really cool bar (below). "We do a lot in-store events so we wanted to have that," Mac said.
Mac's vision for the first flagship is mainly to carry products that have little or no presence in New York City. "We don't want to be selling things that you could find in ten other places," he said, and chances are that you won't recognize a lot of the brands you'll find here. "We've got local brands, West Coast [brands], and everybody in between."
And just like what's showcased at the pop-ups, everything here is manufactured in the US, which is arguably Northern Grade's most notable thumbprint. "We have our own brand and we make it here in the US, so we really wanted to support our fellow comrades that are also making their products here," according to Mac. "Northern Grade gives recognition to all these brands that are doing some amazing things. It just seems like in the world we live in, sometimes the bigger guys get all the attention."
The collection of clothing and products is pretty diverse, with everything from socks by American Trench and totes by Clark & Madison to clothing by Freenote Cloth and Duckworth, plus a handful of the brands can't be found anywhere else in the city, like Hackwith Designs, Pointer, and Rogue Territory. Although the market originally only carried menswear, there's a section at the flagship that's dedicated to women, and many of the products are unisex.
When asked about how it felt to see some of these brands flourish after participating in a Northern Grade market, Mac was filled with pride. "That's probably one of the most rewarding things. We've had brands be picked up by major department stores and be part of big collaborations, and it's pretty awesome to watch them start from almost nothing and grow in the national spotlight."
Since Northern Grade is all about bringing brand owners and customers together, you can expect a lot of cool events in the future, including a few in December to celebrate the holidays — and yes, we're assured that there will be free booze.