By  on January 6, 2009

NEW YORK — Marc Jacobs is getting ready to expand his West Village empire, even as he tinkers with the existing store lineup.

Jacobs, the first designer to plant a flag in the neighborhood in 2000, has amassed five units in the vicinity and opened the floodgates for designers such as Cynthia Rowley, Lulu Guinness and Ralph Lauren to open stores.

Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs International, revealed the company has signed another lease for a large space on Bleecker Street. The site, which has a tenant, will be vacant by the end of the year, said Duffy. “It’s a new concept for us,” he said. “It’s something we’ve never done before.”

Duffy declined to divulge the exact location of the store or give details about the concept.

In the meantime, the company has shifted concepts between stores, playing a game of retail musical chairs intended to maximize profits and productivity. The Collection store at 301 West 4th Street is now a Marc Jacobs men’s store. The Little Marc store at 298 West 4th Street has become a men’s accessories store. Little Marc will take up residence in the old Marc Jacobs men’s store at 382 Bleecker Street. Meanwhile, the West Village Collection store has joined the original Collection unit on Mercer Street in SoHo.

“Our business has doubled in every store on Bleecker Street during 2008,” said Duffy. “The men’s store was a very small store and it doubled business in the last year. We ran out of space. There wasn’t even a place to sit down and try on shoes.”

Duffy said the reason for the changes was “purely dollars and cents. If one store has potential, why not move it to a larger space? That’s what I like about those stores — you can move them around.”

Since the economic downturn, the women’s Collection business never took off in the same way the men’s did, Duffy said. “The Marc by Marc Jacobs women’s store is unbelievable,” he added. “The Marc by Marc handbag business has doubled in the last year. The only thing that didn’t work on Bleecker Street was the women’s handbag Collection business. Globally, business is far ahead in 2008.”

This isn’t the first time Duffy has shifted concepts. “I always switch things around,” he said. “I look at Bleecker Street as my own little department store. I look at it as the old Henri Bendel Street of Shops,” where customers encounter interesting shops that may or may not be there on their next visit.

Marc Jacobs has been criticized by locals for making Bleecker Street chic for other designers, which in turn has raised the rents in the area. “I never thought of it as a designer row,” Duffy said. “For me it was a neighborhood store and it grew. We are also very much a part of the neighborhood. We plant the whole three blocks with [flowers].”

The phenomenon of Bleecker Street has been repeated elsewhere. “The same thing happened to us on Melrose Avenue” in Los Angeles, Duffy said. “When we opened, there weren’t any ready-to-wear stores. Now we’re surrounded.”

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