By  on April 4, 2005

NEW YORK — Manhattan’s Upper West Side was long considered an intellectual haven. It was more about substance than style. It had more markets and cheese shops than top restaurants. There were chess clubs and acting studios but no mega-watt hairstylists.

And the fashion scene was anemic, with discounters such as Filene’s Basement and Today’s Man. But the neighborhood is no longer bereft. The Time Warner Center with its Shops at Columbus Circle is the area’s style leader.

In addition, new stores such as Barneys New York’s Co-op on Broadway, Steve Alan shoes on Amsterdam Avenue and Theory on Columbus Avenue are bringing fashion with a capital F to the area, while some new construction heralds additional shopping opportunities.

The Mayfair Hotel at 15 Central Park West is being demolished and redeveloped with the first four floors devoted to retail. Each will have 18,000 to 20,000 square feet. (Entrances will be on Broadway.) People familiar with the project said the space could be divided or used for one specialty store tenant. And with little retail space available on the street, there’s intense interest in the project.

The Shops at Columbus Circle, however, set the tone for the new Upper West Side.

Robert K. Futterman, a consultant to the Shops at Columbus Circle, said the property is averaging sales of $1,400 a square foot, with tenants such as A/X Armani Exchange, Williams Sonoma, Cole Hahn, Coach, Tourneau, J. Crew, Eileen Fisher, Hugo Boss, Sephora, Tumi and Calvin Klein Underwear. The developer initially predicted sales of $1,000 a square foot.

Restaurants at the center are among the city’s priciest. Masa offers New York’s most expensive prix fixe meal, and Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Jean-George Vongerichten’s V Steakhouse and Gray Kunz’s Cafe Gray are no bargains. But the center was not built solely for the neighborhood. It is a magnet for tourists, some of whom stay in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at the center.

The Upper West Side, like other parts of Manhattan, became increasingly gentrified. Now, beyond the luxury apartments of Time Warner Center — including a $45 million penthouse residence — are the merely expensive apartments of the Upper West Side.“The average studio is $350,000 or higher,” said Michael A. Goldenberg, executive director of sales for the West Side at Halstead Properties. “Of course the average price of an apartment in New York is $1 million. Retailers believe the income is here to purchase the goods they’re selling. The real estate market helps confirm that. Over the last 24 months there’s been a huge appreciation of value.”

When Stu Modern, a director at Newmark, a real estate brokerage, moved to the Upper West Side more than two decades ago it was the Wild West. The area got its personality from its two most prestigious institutions: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Columbia University. “I had a neighbor who was a violinist at Philharmonic and another who was an opera singer at the Metropolitan Opera,” said Modern.

The changes over the last 10 years have been dramatic.

“What happened is the young Baby Boomers who moved in in the Sixties and Seventies and bought co-ops at insider prices have grown up,” Modern said. “They have money and their tastes have changed. The neighborhood was also discovered by bankers and lawyers.”

Now that retailers want to open stores, however, rents are becoming prohibitive, with asking prices on Broadway between $200 and $300 a square foot, real estate brokers said.

Urban Outfitters at 72nd Street and Broadway is said to be one of the chain’s most successful stores. But it is the success of Barneys Co-op, with its edgy fashion aimed at the most fashion-conscious New Yorkers, that has other retailers thinking about the Upper West Side.

“Theory has a tiny women’s store on Columbus Avenue,” said Richard B. Hodos, president of Madison HGCD. “They would like to double the size of that store on Broadway. Sephora is looking to open more stores on the Upper West Side on Broadway and Columbus Avenue.”

Others said to be looking for space in the area are Ann Taylor Loft, Ethan Allen and Nine West.

“We continue to do very well,” said Michael Celestino, executive vice president of stores for Barneys New York. “We are definitely exceeding our original plans.”Celestino stressed that the 6,000-square-foot store does not cater to tourists. Customers include men, who shop more on weekends than during the week, young mothers and a group of people Celestino described as “time poor.’’ He defined them as “coming home from work and stopping in on the way. It’s very much a neighborhood type of client.”

As always, there’s movement on and off Columbus Avenue. Banana Republic is closing its Columbus Avenue store and moving to a much larger space, the former Eddie Bauer space at 68th Street and Broadway, which measures 15,000 square feet. The Gap is reportedly closing two stores on Columbus Avenue, a women’s store and babyGap, but Kiehl’s opened a store on the avenue.

“The Upper West Side is a totally dynamic marketplace with a very affluent, educated and dense population,” said Gene Spiegelman, a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield. “I think you’re going to see higher taste levels and higher price points. I’m not sure if you’re going to see Gucci and Zegna, but better apparel and accessories will thrive.”

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