The visit by Pope Francis to New York discouraged shopping, though crowds associated with the United Nations General Assembly offset some volume losses.
“For Herald Square, the Long Island Railroad commuting customer stayed home but the store is enjoying shopping from the U.N. [General] Assembly where various visiting diplomats and dignitaries make Macy’s Herald Square a part of their schedule,” said Elina Kazan, a Macy’s spokeswoman, on Friday.
“The United Nations is good for business. There are people in town from all over the world and a lot of them want to go shopping,” said a former retail chief executive. “But things like the Pope, or a big parade, or a president, depresses business. People can’t get around. It never helps.”
“Today is a non-issue for Saks Fifth Avenue,” said a Kathleen Ruiz, spokeswoman for Saks, on Friday. “Obviously, there were lots of crowds, but we had probably less traffic Thursday. Today the store appears normal. When I came in this morning, there were no barricades by the front.” Saks kept its Fifth Avenue entrances closed Thursday due to the Pope visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is next door to Saks.
“Yesterday got slower as the day progressed,” said a men’s fragrance consultant inside Saks. “There were a lot of crowds in the area as the day progressed. They weren’t coming into the stores. Today seems semi-normal.”
According to one retail consultant, lower-priced stores such as H&M and Forever 21 would likely see more selling-floor traffic from the crowds gathered to see the pope than would upscale stores like Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue. “Luxury shoppers tend to stay home,” said the consultant.
Stores can adapt their sales and staffing plans based on annual events such as parades and street festivals, but unusual, one-time events, such as the Pope’s visit, are tougher to plan for since there is no selling history.
An employee at Express said the store on Madison Avenue and 51st Street suffered on Thursday when the avenue was barricaded for the Pope’s St. Patrick’s address. “Today is a little slower,” she said. “It’s a memorable occasion for everyone. They wanted to see the Pope, not shop.”
“It was a little odd yesterday with the blockade,” said Alison Erion, the manager of Jurlique at 477 Madison Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets. “But we actually had a pretty decent traffic flow because they initially blocked the west side of Madison to pedestrians. Jurlique is on the east side of the street. Once it hit 5:15 and they blocked this side of the street, there was nothing.”
Erion said the store had more walk-in customers on Thursday. “I think it’s because some businesses decided to close. It was good for the ones that stayed open.”
A representative of Jimmy Choo on 51 Street, said “there was a lot going on yesterday. Our regulars stayed away from the craziness.”
“Oh, it definitely had an effect,” said Jon Clarkson, supervisor of the Façonnable flagship at Rockefeller Center. “We closed 30 minutes after we opened at 9 a.m. and we didn’t open up again. There was no way for anybody to make it into the store. The street was blocked. It definitely affected business. Today, the traffic is definitely very down. It’s very slow today.”
Banana Republic, also in Rockefeller Center, closed on Thursday at 2 pm. “It was slow,” said a sales associate. “It was a very slow, nice, relaxing day.”
The Anne Fontaine boutique in Rockefeller Center closed at 4:30 pm on Thursday. “There wasn’t a lot of traffic,” an employee said. “Today we’re not that busy, but it’s still morning.” Asked whether the papal visit impacted the store, a Topshop associate said, “Oh, it certainly did. We closed at 6 p.m., three hours early. Today, it’s absolutely back to normal.”
A Fifth Avenue Aritzia floor manager said the pope’s visit “didn’t impact the store as much as we thought it would.”
On Friday, the pope was traveling from his Upper East Side accommodations to address 170 world leaders at the U.N., then to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum downtown before a late afternoon visit to The Church of Our Lady Queen of the Angels School in East Harlem. En route to Madison Square Garden, the pope mobile will cruise past 80,000-plus ticketed fans in Central Park. By Saturday, the gridlock and traffic delays should ease, since the pope will be jetting off to Philadelphia.
The Macy’s Philadelphia store will have performances on the famous Wanamaker Organ at noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, while store hours will be abbreviated from Friday through Sunday. Normally, Macy’s Philadelphia is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, this weekend, Macy’s Philadelphia is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.