By  on June 13, 2005

NEW YORK — Anthropologists studying the stores on the far Upper West Side would come to the conclusion that residents living north of 96th Street in the 10028 zip code like eating, but not shopping.

Gourmet Garage, Starbucks and Texas Rotisserie & Grille are only a few of the restaurants in the immediate area. There's a Duane Reade, the requisite nail salon on every corner, a dry cleaner and laundromat, but precious few clothing stores.

Yael Levy, who lived in the neighborhood, knew residents indeed liked to shop, but that the dearth of options was forcing them to spend their money in other parts of the city. Banking on the area's favorable demographics, Levy, in March, opened Rootchi at 2624 Broadway at 99th Street. The 1,000-square-foot store sells knitwear and linen separates designed by her mother, Ronni Rabl, and manufactured in Israel.

It's clear the appeal of the store extends beyond the merchandise. The space has become something of a hang-out for local women and there's always food and drink on hand — dried apricots, almonds, cookies and tea. Between bites the women try on clothes, tell stories about their children and joke about their body flaws. The store stays open until 8 p.m.

"There's a huge population of single women over 50 here," said Yael Levy. "Customers stop into the store on their way to work in the morning to say hello."

Rootchi is expected to do $800,000 in first-year sales. Prices for the line range from $49 for shells and tanks to $150 for dresses. The store also sells jewelry designed by local artists.

Levy moved to the U.S. from Israel in 1992 and enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology. She soon began selling her mother's designs and eventually opened a showroom. The company now wholesales the Ronni Rabl line to 500 specialty stores, she said.

In addition to rotating exhibits by local artists, Rootchi holds cultural and educational seminars. A recent ladies' night out featured a discussion led by sexual therapist Mindy Ross. Last month, Rootchi, in collaboration with Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem, invited Michelle Prochia, a personal development coach and author, to speak.It remains to be seen whether other apparel retailers follow Rootchi uptown. Businesses have been creeping north on Broadway, but 96th Street is still the line of demarcation.

"The Lincoln Center market has become very important. Columbus Avenue has weekend traffic. It's an ice-cream-and-cake kind of neighborhood," said a real estate broker. "Once you get to 96th Street it's a barren valley."

"The Upper West Side is evolving, but you get stuck at Barneys Co-Op," said Levy, referring to the store at Broadway and 75th Street. "We're close to Harlem and we're trying to attract customers from there."

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