NEW YORK — There’s another swirl of change racing up and down Fifth Avenue.
Lord & Taylor is working toward a Jan. 2 shutdown of its historic flagship, though the closing date is tentative depending on how the clearance sale progresses, WWD has learned.
As previously revealed, WeWork should take possession of the 650,000-square-foot, 11-story property sometime in January and convert it to its global headquarters and shared offices, along with transforming the lower, main and second floors for new retailing. There’s been conjecture about a food hall, but WeWork isn’t commenting on specific tenants yet.
In other high-profile changes, Gap will close its three-level flagship at 680 Fifth Avenue, between 53rd and 54th Streets, on Jan. 20, after being on the site since 1997. The move is part of the specialty chain’s massive streamlining that involves hundreds of stores worldwide that, as Gap Inc. chief executive officer Art Peck said, “don’t fit our vision for the future of [the] Gap brand specialty store, whether in terms of profitability, customer experience, traffic trends.”
The Gap did open a Times Square flagship a year ago, which is seen as a strategy orchestrated in tandem with the Fifth Avenue closing. Representatives from Gap declined to provide a reason for the closure of the Fifth Avenue unit.
Abercrombie & Fitch is also believed to be vacating its Fifth Avenue space between 53rd and 54th Streets — long seen as one of the brand’s major units — and possibly taking the space that Gap is leaving.
“While we do not normally comment on market rumor, we have no current plans to close the store next year,” said an A&F spokesperson on Wednesday. “As we continue our transformation, we remain focused on optimizing our stores’ fleet and delivering the best omnichannel experience for our customers.”
For years after the A&F flagship opened in 2005, lines formed daily outside the entrance by the darkened windows and record volumes were attained. But A&F in recent years has lost some popularity as its customers aged and shifted to other brands.
Earlier this year, Henri Bendel, owned by L Brands — which also owns Victoria’s Secret — said it would close all 23 Bendel’s units, including the flagship at 712 Fifth Avenue. Given its prime location between 54th and 55th Streets and its beautiful architecture and Lalique windows, it would be an ideal site for a monobrand flagship.
The Ralph Lauren Corp. closed its Polo flagship at 711 Fifth Avenue, which opened in mid-2014, in the spring of 2017 after getting out of a 15-year lease in the process. The location remains vacant.
“Fifth Avenue punishes the weak and rewards the strong,” said Ken Hochhauser, executive vice president of Winick Realty Group.
“If you look at the retailers who are abandoning or have abandoned Fifth Avenue, their market share has been going down and they’ve been losing customer relevance. But for every retailer that is closing or will be closing shop, four or five others are in the market looking at the space,” he said.
Another source said Fifth Avenue retains its wide spectrum of appeal, from designer brands to mass merchants, and noted that Dior has been eyeing some spaces.
Meanwhile, as stores close, there is no lack of retailers, from luxury to ath-leisure, moving in.
Vince, the contemporary apparel and accessories brand, recently told WWD it will open a store at 609 Fifth Avenue in the fall. “This is a great location across from Rockefeller Center and we look forward to benefiting from the significant foot traffic,” said ceo Brendan Hoffman. It’s on 49th Street across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue.
Puma, the German sportswear brand, has secured a lease for a store at 609 Fifth Avenue, on the corner of 49th Street. The three-level flagship is expected to open in the second half of 2019.
In November, Nike opened a six-level, 68,000-square-foot House of Innovation at 650 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 52nd Street. It’s one of only two such stores in the world, with the other located in Shanghai. The Manhattan store includes a customization station and speed checkouts.
Also in November, Five Below, the discount retailer, opened at 530 Fifth Avenue, between 44th and 45th Streets. It’s the company’s first Manhattan store.
Under Armour is planning a high-profile move into 767 Fifth Avenue, between 58th and 59th Streets, at the base of the General Motors building in the site of the former FAO Schwarz flagship, though the store will take a while before it’s ready to open. Executives last month said a “pinnacle brand expression” store will open during the first half of 2021. “It’s going to be amazing,” said Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s founder and ceo.
The arrivals of brands such as Puma, Nike and Under Armour — after the likes of Adidas and Asics also opened on Fifth Avenue — reflect the democratization of fashion and price points on the famed street. It began in the Eighties with the opening of a Warner Bros. store on the northeast corner of Fifth and 57th Street, which was followed shortly thereafter by a Disney store. Years later, the Warners Bros. store closed and Louis Vuitton took the site, while the Disney store also closed.
“If you go back to the Eighties, Fifth Avenue has always been a mix of different retail — a street of broad appeal,” said Hochhauser.
Rents range from $725 a square foot from roughly 42nd to 48th Streets, and have until recently been over $3,000 in the mid-Fifties. But there are reports that Fifth Avenue between 49th and 59th Streets has seen asking rents drop to under $3,000.
The dividing line is around 48th or 49th Streets, where rents start dramatically increasing.
According to pedestrian counts by the Grand Central Partnership, in November 2018 there were 2,010,000 people who crossed Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. That’s more than six-and-a-half times the monthly visitors to the Statue of Liberty, but a 1.8 percent decline in traffic from the 2,046,701 who crossed the street in November 2017.
“There’s a faster pace of change on Fifth Avenue than other high streets in the United States,” said Hochhauser. “The velocity of change in fashion and what consumers want has increased so much that there is this greater disconnect between the consumer and retailer. But retailers are getting better at adapting to the rate of change and getting more connected to their customers.”
Asked to explain the musical chairs of retailing on Fifth Avenue, Hochhauser replied, “It’s Fifth Avenue being Fifth Avenue.”