The SoHo boutique lived through the area’s mallification in the mid-Nineties, when Sunglass Hut and J. Crew opened stores. Then there was the march of the designer brands, like Marc by Marc Jacobs, Kors by Michael Kors and Prada Sport, which begat Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
Upscale brands continued to locate downtown, driving up rents and squeezing out galleries and such longtime fashion tenants as Comme des Garçons, which had given SoHo its unique character. The final blow was Sept. 11, 2001. Black clouds of smoke hung over the neighborhood, literally and figuratively. Tourists stopped coming and companies like H. Stern and Cartier, which had planned to open units in the neighborhood, retreated.
Through it all, Bagutta kept on doing what it’s always done: selling pricy clothing from the likes of John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen and Martine Sitbon from its West Broadway boutique. Now, Bagutta is ready for the next phase. The retailer said Wednesday it will open a 7,000-square-foot lifestyle store at 72-76 Greene Street in July.
The move is significant because it marks the first time an apparel retailer has made a commitment to SoHo in quite some time.
"The new store is not going to be like any existing high-fashion store," said owner Marc Bagutta. "We’re doing a complete furniture line covered in nonendangered species, such as swordfish and razor fish. I’ve developed a perfume-essential oil line that comes in crystal bottles. There will be also be an art gallery. You’ll be able to come in and buy a couch for $10,000 to $25,000, a Christian Dior dress for $6,000 or a pair of Dolce & Gabbana cargo pants for $600."
The new store is expected to do $5 million in its first year. Bagutta said he will keep his existing 3,500-square foot store, which does $4 million, at least for a while, until he sees how the new store performs. The new store is two blocks away on Green Street.
Caroline P. Banker, executive vice president of realty firm Douglas Elliman, said there have been a number of leases signed in SoHo for home furnishings stores, but virtually none for fashion tenants."SoHo is transitioning," said Banker, who specializes in the area. "It will ultimately end up being more of a bridge-to- better market than ultra luxury. Adidas has had great success and Anne Klein has had success. Items that were too dear struck out."
Banker said that landlords are finally beginning to price their properties more realistically.
"Two years ago, stores on Greene and Wooster Streets between Spring and Prince Streets were as high as $200 a square foot. Rents are down by at least one-third, if not more."
But, she added, "a recovery is under way. From a tenant’s vantage point, I think we’ve hit bottom."
Bagutta, whose store has been on West Broadway for 16 years, attributes his success to an ability to spot new talent — Zac Posen, for example, whose line he’s been carrying for a some time.
Bagutta has expanded the West Broadway shop several times and also updated the store’s interiors. "I’ve changed the design of the store on West Broadway five times," he said. "We’ve reinvented ourselves every few years."
Nonetheless, Bagutta admits that business has been "extremely difficult in SoHo."
"We have a loyal clientele," he explained. "We’re not a business that relies on tourists. We do strictly high fashion. I carry Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. It’s hard to get these lines and I’m not about to give them up. This is not an easy job. But I always take advice from my staff. Once you say you know everything, you don’t know anything."
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