By  on July 13, 2006

NEW YORK — In the race for contemporary customers, specialty stores such as Scoop, Calypso and Intermix have a head start over Atrium, a lower Manhattan boutique with a cult following.

Scoop is expanding nationally, Intermix has ventured as far west as Dallas and Calypso is seeking locations in London and Asia. Even Neiman Marcus is entering the fray with a chain of stores called Cusp. Now Atrium founder Sam Ben-Avraham wants to replicate the store's success in other cities.

Last month he crossed the Hudson River to open two units in Livingston, N.J. They will be followed by a store in Miami that is to open in November. There are plans for Atriums in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Ben-Avraham has a history of divining what young women want. During his 11 years of selecting the merchandise for Atrium, located at 644 Broadway here, he's plugged into dozens of offbeat resources. Some, like Evisu, G-Star and AG Adriano Goldschmied, he claims to have discovered.

Livingston is just under an hour's drive west of Manhattan. With the 4,400-square-foot Atrium Livingston at 8115 Town Center Way, Ben-Avraham has tried to anticipate the needs of style-savvy soccer moms, college students and working women. It will feature Catherine Malandrino, Yaya, Development, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Philosophy by Alberta Ferretti, Juicy Couture, Lacoste, Hanii Y, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Sergio Rossi, Antik Batik and Trovata.

The 2,000-square-foot Atrium Kids at 6160 Town Center Way caters to mothers-to-be with chic children's wear, Diane von Furstenberg Belly Button and maternity jeans from Juicy Couture, Citizens of Humanity and Earl.

Ben-Avraham said he wants to open more stores in Manhattan. He's also looking at suburbs "that neighbor cool big cities, where there's a want and a need for something upscale, modern and something really different from the norm." He declined to name specific locations.

Ben-Avraham has other ventures on his radar. Project, a global trade show for men's wear he launched in 2003, is now held four times a year here and in Las Vegas and includes women's and kids' apparel.

In February, he opened Esthete in the Meatpacking District here. The boutique has a refined sense of elegance and an international roster of designers, including Thomas Wylde, 3.1 Phillip Lim, VPL by Victoria Bartlett, Gardem, Anne-Valerie Hash and Gary Graham. The store is projected to do $1.5 million in sales in its first year.Atrium, Ben-Avraham said, does $2,000 in sales per square foot and will add new resources for fall. They include McQ, which Ben-Avraham calls "the perfect aesthetic for that sexy feminine-with-an-edge girl who wants to set herself apart." April 77, a new denim-based rockabilly lifestyle brand from Paris, features unisex, skinny rocker jeans straight out of the movie "Grease." Meanwhile, Neo, a collection from Los Angeles, has a European flair, Ben-Avraham said, adding that the washed cashmere and leather pieces resemble Rich Owen's design aesthetic.

Ben-Avraham is bullish on Johnson Short. The shorts, made from vintage men's wear fabrics, will be shown at Atrium with leggings and voluminous tops.

To complement the fashion, Ben-Avraham plans to introduce lifestyle elements to Atrium stores, including vintage fashion, accessories, footwear, bath and body products, home items, lingerie and music.

"We'll do more private label merchandise," he added. "With multiple locations, private label is always an exciting prospect."

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