By  on June 26, 2008

Urban contemporary specialty stores are facing a tough challenge as department stores such as Macy's and Dillard's flex their larger muscles in the market. Three years ago, chains such as D.e.m.o. and Mony were major players in the sector; their operations have since shuttered or dwindled. According to The NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y., total U.S. apparel sales were $192.7 billion for the 12 months ended April 30. Of that amount, $3 billion is hip-hop, with 60 percent of that targeted at men's hip-hop. Fashion also is changing, as younger consumers begin to take more interest in collections from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Victoria Beckham and Mandy Moore. Below, a look at those urban contemporary retailers that still dominate the specialty scene.

Number of stores: 176

Underground Station features apparel brands such as Akademiks, Apple Bottoms and Baby Phat. Most of the Brooklyn-based retailer's footwear offerings include products from Timberland, Phat Farm, Puma, Converse and Ralph Lauren, among others. The chain is operated by Genesco Inc., which was acquired last year by Finish Line Inc. As of February, the chain operated 176 stores, averaging approximately 1,775 square feet, throughout the U.S. More recently, Genesco reported earnings from continuing operations of $9.5 million, or $0.43 per diluted share, for the third quarter ended Nov 1. Net sales for the third quarter increased by 5 percent to $390 million, compared with net sales for the same period last year of $372 million. Net sales for the Underground Station Group were $24 million for the third quarter, and same-store sales rose 1 percent from the prior-year period.

Number of stores: 95

The Finish Line, Inc.-owned hip-hop fashion retailer opened its first store in 1969. Located in Benton Harbor, Mich., the edgy store "featured a pink shag carpet, a pink vintage cash register and funky music bumping from the store's speakers," noted the company. Today, the retailer's 90-plus units boast apparel and accessories from the likes of Enyce, G Unit, Rocawear, Sean John and Deréon. Stores can be found in 18 states, although the majority are located in Georgia, Michigan and Texas. The three most recent openings last fall were in Norfolk, Va.; Huntsville, Ala., and Killeen, Tex.3. AGAINST ALL ODDS
Number of stores: 70

Founded in 1995 by Korean-American Kenny Khym, Against All Odds "first started with a mission to challenge the world of hip-hop fashion and, after conquering this market, moved to a much more diverse merchandise assortment," stated the company, whose headquarters is in Moonachie, N.J. The retailer carries apparel brands such as Dickies, Coogi, Marc Ecko, G Unit, Lot 29 and Deréon, as well as accessories and footwear. The privately held company's locations are scattered throughout New Jersey, New York, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut and California.

Number of stores: 46

Jimmy Jazz president and founder Jimmy Khezrie opened his first location in 1988 on Delancey Street in Manhattan. Today, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based retailer has expanded to nearly 50 locations across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. Jimmy Jazz offers men's, women's and children's apparel and brands including Nike, Timberland, Ed Hardy, True Religion, Antik Denim and Rocawear. The retailer's parent company, Oved Apparel Corp., also owns urban brands such as Akademiks and Mecca, as well as Prps, a high-end denim label; Company 81, a sporty men's line, and, most recently, Boy Meets Girl by Deesh, originally founded by Stacy Morgenstern Igel.

Number of stores: 35

A favorite among professional basketball players such as Allen Iverson, this urban chain, founded in 1981 by Joe Nadav, is located primarily in Philadelphia, though a few shops can be found in New Jersey, Delaware and Ohio. Nadav, who moved to the City of Brotherly Love from Israel in the Seventies, opened his first shop on 13th and Market Streets. He decided to name the store City Blue for its close proximity to City Hall, but he included the Blue after staring at the hefty piles of blue jeans on his shelves. Selling brands such as Sean Jean, Rocawear and Marithé & François Girbaud, the chain also boasts a large selection of shoes and boots from brands such as Reebok and Nike. The retailer also operates Lady Blue shops, which are dedicated solely to women's wear (all others are coed).6. EPIC
Number of stores: 21

A mall-based chain, Epic stores are owned by Retail Apparel Service Corp., a privately held company with headquarters in Freeport, N.Y. The Long Island-based company said it strives to focus on trends, and that it places more of an emphasis on fashionable looks versus brand names. Epic stores are concentrated in the Northeast and Florida — locations in the New York region can be found in Staten Island and Queens. The company also operates the Law chain. Epic's lineup of urban contemporary brands features mainstay names such as Rocawear and Sean Jean, while Law offers more contemporary streetwear brands such as Artful Dodger.

7. DR. JAY'S
Number of stores: 19

Baby Phat, Deréon, Nike, Rocawear, Converse, Timberland and Ed Hardy are just a few of the brands carried by the New York-based retailer. In October, Footwear News stated, "Founded in the mid-Seventies by the Betesh family of South Bronx, Dr. Jay's opened in hip-hop's birthplace just as the movement took off." Manne Gonzalez, the head buyer for the retailer, told FN at the time, "[Our customers] want value, but they don't want it to look cheap. The customer isn't stupid. They don't want to spend a lot of money, but they don't want it to look like it's going to fall apart." She noted of the urban customer's direction: "We're going to see a little morphing of urban and suburban. The urban customer doesn't know what they want right now — they're fact-finding." Dr. Jay's also operates an e-commerce site,, but it is owned and run separately.

Number of stores: 3

Once an ideal destination for hip-hop streetwear, Brooklyn-based Mony since has closed a number of its stores (in 2005, the retailer operated 11 locations in the New York vicinity). Remaining destinations feature apparel from brands such as Apple Bottoms and Marc Ecko, along with Vanessa and Angela Simmons' (Kimora Lee's nieces) new line, Pastry. The brand, which features a full line of junior sportswear, footwear and handbags, entered specialty retailers earlier this year. Mony has worked to keep its apparel offering current: the retailer introduced a number of premium denim lines, such as Seven For All Mankind and Joe's Jeans, and also features higher-end names, such as Juicy Couture and True Religion. 

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