By  on August 21, 2009

NEW YORK — The past year has been a wild ride for Megan O’Sullivan, whose Tia’s Place near the Grove Street PATH station in Jersey City hopped a train to Manhattan and spawned Tia’s at Grand Central Terminal.

The store, which bowed on Monday, is the first apparel retailer to lease a space actually inside the terminal. Banana Republic and Kenneth Cole rent space from the MTA, but are accessed only through entrances on 42nd Street.

With an emphasis on young designers, niche brands, a smattering of better-known labels, accessories such as jewelry and scarves as well as handbags,Tia’s traffics in surprisingly low price points that make pulling the purchase trigger easy in the busy terminal through which about half a million people pass each day.

Tia’s is one of the final steps in the terminal’s remerchandising of the Lexington Passage, which began in April 2008. The long, wide corridor leads to the station’s main waiting room on one end and Lexington Avenue on the other. Retailers new to the station include MAC Cosmetics, Tea & Honey, InnaSense and Cursive. Pink Slip and Tumi relocated their stores and expanded. “We knew apparel would work,” said Laura Blaustein, assistant general manager of Jones Lang LaSalle. “It has some challenges.”

O’Sullivan has identified the stumbling blocks. Consumers in Grand Central are usually in a hurry, so Tia’s stocks items that are easy to try on, such as sweaters, wrap dresses and jeans. Space is at a premium. Tia’s is just 500 square feet, compared with the 4,000-square-foot Jersey City flagship, which had sales of $1 million last year.

To compensate for the new unit’s small size, O’Sullivan gave Tia’s two doors to ease traffic flow, and employed some decorating sleight of hand, such as hiding storage areas behind white vinyl tufted walls decorated with Swarovski crystal studs. A shelf displaying accessories sits inside a circle cut out of a mirrored wall and mirrored display tables have overlays of glossy white lattice designs.

Along with Max & Cleo, Quiksilver and Velvet, O’Sullivan offers young designers such as Piace, whose olive top has zippers on the neck and sleeves. The highest-priced item is a one-shoulder dress with a peacock motif by Tibi for $340. Jeans range in price from $52 for Flying Monkey to $164 for AG.

Delux, a California brand whose PVC handbags could be mistaken for leather, sells braided styles for $130 and others with gold studs, $140.

Tia’s sold out of a khaki green safari Collective dress with gold buttons, $48, and sold 20 pairs of sunglasses, priced at less than $30.

The average rent in the passage is $255 a square foot, although some recent deals have been done at $309 a square foot, said Blaustein. Retail sales average about $2,200 a square foot. “If the terminal were a mall, it would be one of the most successful in the country,” said Nancy Marshall, the MTA’s director of development for Grand Central. “That’s higher than the Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the Bal Harbour Shops in Bal Harbour, Fla.”

O’Sullivan, who named the stores after her grandmother — a woman who always “dressed,” even if she wasn’t going out — sees a silver lining to the recession. “The barrier to entry for retail in Manhattan five years ago would have been too much for me,” she said.

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