NEW YORK — Sean “P. Diddy” Combs has a new base — and his first store.

His fashion company, Sean John, signed a lease last Tuesday for a 3,500-square-foot store on Fifth Avenue and 41st Street — the first site in what ultimately could be a 200- to 300-unit national chain. The lease was fully executed Friday and the store is expected to open around March or April, confirming a WWD report on Wednesday.

P. Diddy’s company picked a high-traffic stretch and Sean John, considering its drawing power, could be the magnet that pulls additional fashion retailers to the area. There’s no shortage of space, with the closed locations of Today’s Man on the southeast corner of 44th Street and The Wiz on the southeast corner of 46th Street. Then there is the HMV store, also at 46th Street, where a lease is said to be coming due, though it’s possible HMV will renew. In addition, the Charles Scribner building between 48th and 49th Streets is reportedly being marketed. It currently houses Benetton’s Sisley division.

However, between Saks Fifth Avenue on 49th Street and Lord & Taylor on 38th Street, Fifth Avenue is a virtual dead zone for fashion, with only a handful of apparel shops along the stretch, including Ann Taylor, Fossil, Forman’s and The New York Look. Sean John’s neighbor on Fifth will be Cingular Wireless.

“Sean John is such a strong brand, it will be a destination,” said Steve Greenberg, president of The Greenberg Group Inc., a real estate adviser to Sean John, Gucci and other retailers, which brought Sean John to the Fifth Avenue site.

Acknowledging that negotiating a deal on the site was not easy, Greenberg said, “We made a marriage. You just don’t walk away from a deal like this over some sticking points.” He declined to elaborate what they were, but it usually boils down to rent terms.

Roger Lowenthal, senior vice president of The Greenberg Group, was instrumental in bringing both sides together. “Sean John will have a tremendous presence. The ceilings are high, about 20 feet, and there’s slightly less than 100 feet of frontage on Fifth Avenue and 41st Street.” Traffic is fueled by Grand Central Terminal, Bryant Park, the New York Public Library and the vast office worker population.P. Diddy wants to launch a women’s collection to complement his men’s and boys’ collections. He featured a few women’s looks on his runway in February. The new store would be able to accommodate women’s. Future Sean John stores are expected to also be around 3,500 square feet. Sean John’s retail team includes Charles Soriano, director of retail, and Jeffrey Tweedy, executive vice president.

Apparently, Sean John wants the first store to be profitable, locking into an affordable flagship location. Rents around 42nd Street are anywhere from $150 to $200 a square foot for a corner location, Lowenthal said.

“We didn’t want to pay the insane prices to be in the 50s,” added Greenberg.

Greenberg also said that four months ago his company conducted a traffic study from the 30s to the 60s on Fifth and discovered that the busiest intersection is 42nd and Fifth. P. Diddy’s site is 200 feet away from that intersection. “We are also directly across the street from the public library. We thought that was important. This location represents a great balance between being in the upper 50s with Gucci-type tenants, to being on 34th Street. It’s a melting pot, which is what Sean John is about. The brand attracts urban and suburban customers, and crosses ethnic and demographic lines.”

As the exclusive agent for Sean John, The Greenberg Group has been working with the brand for two years. “This is the first of a national rollout,” Greenberg said, projecting that if all goes well in the early stages of a retail rollout, Sean John could have 200 to 300 stores. “We are already in discussions with many top malls in the country — only A malls. At a time when malls are very concerned about vacancies and there are fewer new concepts coming on board, men’s wear needs this jolt. There is a vacuum of new concepts, and so many retailers are closing stores,” including Eddie Bauer, Museum Co. and Speedo, Greenberg noted.

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