Like a tree sprouting in an asphalt parking lot, Delphinium Home has taken root on a scruffy stretch of Ninth Avenue near 46th Street here. The neighborhood isn’t known for embroidered bath towels or heart-shaped throw pillows like those displayed in the store. It’s a rough-and-tumble urban landscape of car dealers, horse stables, taxi garages and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Not for nothing is the area called Hell’s Kitchen.
And yet, quaint boutiques and cafes similar to those found in the West Village are popping up between 30th and 59th Streets west of Eighth Avenue. Clinton Housing Development Co., a not-for-profit agency that owns hundreds of apartments and thousands of feet of retail space along Ninth, 10th and 11th Avenues, is responsible for much of the evolution. CHDC renovates the buildings to create affordable housing and stores.
Because CHDC has a vested interest in improving the area, it picks tenants based on what they can bring to the neighborhood rather than how much they’re willing to pay. The agency typically gets between $25 and $45 a square foot for retail space, about $5 below market value.
“We’ve had good luck in renting our stores to upscale tenants who are looking for larger spaces or getting priced out of other neighborhoods,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, director of housing development for CHDC.
Stone Kelly-Events Florals at 736 11th Avenue looks like it belongs on Perry Street in the West Village. The showroom and flower shop, which opened in April, provides event planning and floral arrangements.
“This is still one of the areas where you can get a decent deal for the amount of space you’re looking for,” said Marco Olmi, an owner.
The proprietors of Future Legend, at 796 Ninth Avenue, said they opened the shop last fall because the neighborhood lacked a CD store. Their place would be right at home on St. Mark’s Place or Bleecker Street.
Lyd, a clothing boutique at 405 West 44th Street, fills another niche, selling contemporary lines from Los Angeles, London and New York. It’s owner, Mia Gonzalez, has a unique perspective on Hell’s Kitchen.“I grew up in the neighborhood,” she said. “What I really like about it is that it still feels like a neighborhood even though it’s gotten hipper.”
Gonzalez, a knitwear designer, plans to introduce her own line of sweaters into the store.
“Living on 48th Street, I thought it would be great if I could be a pioneer,” said Chris Masaoay, the owner of Mies + Design Shop at 319 West 47th Street. Masaoay, the former head of retail sales at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, sells textiles, vases and jewelry in his store. “This area once had a bad reputation but now it’s a haven for people with varied lifestyles and interests and talents.”
Hell’s Kitchen was once one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. Ruled for decades by the Irish mob, the area was written off by commercial interests. But as other environs succumbed to the glossy patina of national chains, areas such as the Meatpacking District and Hell’s Kitchen are being rediscovered for their authenticity.
Taboon, a Middle Eastern eatery on 10th Avenue, is set to open today. Its owner, Danny Hodak,operatesa flooring business on 11th Avenue.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is expected to open the Baryshnikov Center for Dance at 450 West 37th Street.
“You wouldn’t have thought this could happen a few years ago,” said Howard Aaron, a broker at Northwest Atlantic Real Estate Services, who specializes in emerging neighborhoods. “The area is safe and centrally located. The rents are low and there’s parking.”
Commercial businesses have come for the same reasons. Kenneth Cole’s 126,000-square-foot headquarters is at 603 West 50th Street and Prada’s 119,000-square-foot U.S. headquarters is housed in a former piano factory at 609 West 51st Street.
Graphic designers and architects live and work in converted warehouses and manufacturing buildings and luxury apartments with expensive price tags are under construction. Despite the changes, CHDC hasn’t gotten too much interest from national tenants, according to Visnauskas.
Further downtown, Bleecker Street is entering another phase in its development. Not too long ago the street had been populated by they types of boutiques and florists that can be found in Hell’s Kitchen. Now international designers are driving up rents.LuLu Guinness has a shop on Bleeker Street, Ralph Lauren has two and Marc Jacobs, three. Cynthia Rowley is opening a store at 376 Bleecker Street and Intermix is coming to the neighborhood. Since being discovered by big name designers, rents on Bleecker Street have been creeping up into the range of $80 to $120 per square foot.
Stores in search of cheaper rents are moving south to Christopher Street. Basiques, which sells fashion and home furnishings, set up shop at 19 Christopher Street. Albertine, which features young designers such as Kathy Kemp, Sir, Nadia Tarr and Christina Hattler, opened at 13 Christopher Street.
Nicole Meyer a broker at Newmark/New Spectrum, is showing a space at 14 Christopher Street. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls but I haven’t had any interest from national tenants,” she said. “Who knows. Who ever thought Marc Jacobs or Ralph Lauren would open stores on Bleecker Street?”
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