NEW YORK — Love, Bleecker, a program to revitalize the West Village’s picturesque Bleecker Street, which fell on hard times in the Aughts and never fully recovered — 25 percent of the shops are now empty — will kick off on Sept. 24 with new retailers, art projects and activations aimed at restoring the thoroughfare’s long-term health, winning over the community and eventually, attracting tourists.
Conceived by Brookfield Property Group, which last spring acquired seven retail spaces at depressed prices, the real estate company hired creative strategy and development firm Skylight to position Bleecker Street as a place to find art, commerce and culture.
Prabal Gurung, the project’s first creative director, will unveil his first store, a nearly 4,000-square-foot space at 367 and 369 Bleecker Street. Other tenants include Slightly Alabama, which will open a 2,200-square-foot concept store for its leather products at 350 Bleecker Street, and Bonberi & Fleurotica, plant-based foods and an unconventional florist, will bow at 384 Bleecker. A gallery space at 382 Bleecker with Sean Augustine March’s original prismatic and lighting designs in the window, will house rotating brand collaborations and community projects.
Brookfield’s estimated $31.5 million acquisition of Bleecker Street stores raised eyebrows in the retail and real estate communities, and begs the question of why such a big company would be interested in scattered retail along a quiet, albeit storied, street. But the real estate giant sees the move as more than an isolated urban play. Brookfield considers Bleecker Street to be a new kind of retail activation and platform for growing online digital native brands that may eventually populate its other properties.
“We’ll incubate them here and see them thrive and grow,” said Sara Fay, vice president of marketing at Brookfield Properties. “We created a blueprint. It can’t be duplicated everywhere, but it’s the perfect blueprint.”
Brookfield and Skylight plumbed Bleecker Street’s history as a magnet for jazz and folk music and stomping ground for Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Slightly Alabama will host regular music programming once a month through a partnership with Rolling Stone magazine, with an editor speaking about a genre or artist, and Record Runner, a vinyl shop on Jones Street, offering corresponding discs for sale. There’s even a custom fragrance created by Joya Studio that will waft along the corridor.
“Prabal has always stood for issues that matter,” said Stephanie Blake, chief executive officer of Skylight. “He has depth. Prabal lent his artistic direction to the corridor design and has had a significant impact on the vision of the project.”
“When I came to New York almost 19 years ago, Bleecker Street was the place where we would go,” Gurung said. “I’d never seen a strip of a street that felt as young, alive, energetic and culturally relevant. I’m an immigrant and I always dreamt of having a store there. I thought, maybe I could be part of this.
“I was excited by the fact that Brookfield and Skylight aren’t just trying to retail Bleecker Street,” Gurung added. “They want to revive it with the art and creativity behind it. At this particular moment and during these tumultuous times, I’m thinking about how we can use fashion, music and art to heal. Stores and restaurants are closing. Retail is changing and business is no longer how it used to be. It’s an exciting time that allows us to take risks. The risks are what I live for. Whether they’ve paid off or not they’ve made me strong and more aware and have honed and refined my instincts.”
Gurung’s flagship will house women’s ready-to-wear, newly launched men’s wear, and cashmere and knitwear from Nepal. Atelier Prabal Gurung, the made-to-measure collection, will be available by-appointment in a lounge on the lower level. The space will double as a venue for a series of talks. “I’ve always believed in having an interactive conversation about fashion,” the designer said. “Fashion isn’t just about clothes, it’s about how they touch our bodies and our being. It’s important to have a thriving environment where fashion is discussed in tandem with where it’s sold.”
Slightly Alabama founder Dana Glaeser plans to teach leather, soap, candle and journal-making classes in the store’s large back room, which will also serve as a lounge with bar and Glaeser’s workshop. Fresh from a pop-up at the Seaport District, Glaeser said he’s refined his retail approach. The store will offer 10 complimentary brands, including Gola, a sneaker company founded in 1905 in the U.K., and denim, hat and khaki resources as well as a unisex apothecary. Prices for Slightly Alabama range from $55 for a wallet to $3,000 for a bag.
Slightly Alabama’s Southern roots and music theme comes from Glaeser’s “father, who was a musician. My mother worked for the Muscle Shoals recording studio,” he said, referring to the facility that provided backup and arrangements for Aretha Franklin and the Staple Sisters, among others. “We’re going to raise some money for the Third Street Music School through a raffle for five guitars hanging on the wall.”
Bonberi, a wellness space at 384 Bleecker with plant-based grab and go meals and snacks, cookbooks, clean beauty, and more, is an outgrowth of Nicole Berrie’s web site filled with recipes and editorial about travel. Robin Rose Hilleary’s open studio for her modern, sculptural floral design business, Fleurotica, will occupy part of the space. Artist Signe Pierce’s brightly-hued floral and lighting installation will grace the window.
Brookfield’s first new tenant, the digital footwear brand Margaux, in July opened at 387 Bleecker Street. “It has a real Millennial appeal and high design,” said Michael Goldban, senior vice president of retail leasing at Brookfield. “They’re disruptors. It’s an anchor — well, maybe that’s a little bit much. It demonstrates the types of brands we’re looking for.”
Gurung said the ultimate success of Love, Bleecker depends on other Bleecker Street landlords being willing to achieve the higher bar Brookfield has set in terms of the quality of tenants.
“We’ll be successful when every vacant store has a tenant. Bleecker Street never should have been Fifth Avenue 2.0,” said Fay, referring to Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Burberry and other high-end brands that operated and subsequently closed units on Bleecker Street.