Joseph Sitt has added another trophy to his real estate portfolio.
This story first appeared in the July 26, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Sources close to the company confirmed that Sitt, chief executive officer of Thor Equities, purchased for an estimated 260 million euros, or $344 million, 65-67 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, a key property in the heart of the bustling Parisian shopping district. The retail space is occupied by Nike and Tommy Hilfiger. The length of the retailers’ leases could not be learned.
Sitt is one of New York City’s more aggressive real estate investors. Thor holds 20 million square feet of space worldwide, valued at $9 billion, including a developable parcel in Red Hook, Brooklyn, not yet under construction.
Sitt’s strategy at many properties has been leasing space to luxury tenants, while raising rents in the process. Thor has significant retail holdings in Manhattan’s key shopping areas, with prized properties such as the former Takashimaya building at 693 Fifth Avenue. Thor in May leased 20,000 square feet on four levels to Valentino for a flagship. Thor acquired the building for a reported $142 million in 2010.
A self-made mogul, Sitt was born in Brooklyn and worked at flea markets while attending New York University. He created Ashley Stewart, a plus-size urban brand, growing the chain to 380 stores and $400 million in sales. Sitt left Ashley Stewart to focus on real estate, which he believed to be the key to the brand’s success. The experience gave him the insight to advise retailers, he said. “We work mostly with luxury brands,” Sitt said. “We give them a total strategy for the business and the right positioning. We even help them with staffing and hiring employees. Ceo’s call for my guidance,” he said, citing Andrew Rosen. “I get calls from Mickey Drexler,” he added.
According to Sitt, Thor High Street is opening stores for Tory Burch and Fred Perry overseas, and Mulberry and Elie Saab in the U.S. One of Thor’s latest deals is securing 2,200 square feet for British fashion staple Kent & Curwen at 816 Madison Avenue at 68th Street.
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Sitt is trying to establish Thor in other overseas markets. “We do a small amount of work in Asia,” he said. “My big advantage is that I worked in the Philippines for fashion and manufactured in China, Indonesia and Turkey [for Ashley Stewart]. In Latin America, we’re matchmakers, putting brands together with operators or franchisees. All the brands are going global. There’s no more staying within boundaries of borders.”
Internet pure plays are warming to the idea of brick-and-mortar stores. “Amazon and Facebook are looking for physical stores in the New York area,” Sitt said. “They want customers to ‘feel’ the brands. Samsung is looking for stores. Location is part of branding. It’s part of advertising.”
Thor also owns 597 Fifth Avenue, known as the Scribner Building, which now houses Sephora. The company has amassed properties on Broadway and Greene Street in SoHo and on Washington Street and 14th Street in the Meatpacking District. Thor also owns retail addresses in Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Thor, along with Meyer Bergman, a European property group, in 2010 bought the Burlington Arcade in London for 104 million pounds, or $159 million, which at the time was considered underpriced for the shops, built in 1819, which have been called “an historic and architectural masterpiece.”
Thor will finance its Champs-Elysées deal through investment from Bergman, as well as pension funds and other investors, sources close to the company said.
Thor also acquired a string of storefronts in Cannes, France, which were leased to Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Brioni, Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent, Emilio Pucci and Paule Ka.
Ever the retailer, Sitt said, “[Real estate] is a really exciting adventure. I think one day I will do another chain.”