When Phillip Salem opened Owen in May 2012, the 1,800-square-foot multilabel specialty store at 809 Washington Street, in the heart of the Meatpacking District, quickly established itself as a go-to resource for edgy, sophisticated and sexy looks from designers who weren’t on every matrix.
“I want to take risks on New York-based designers who are not shown in New York,” said Salem at the time of the store’s opening.
Now, Salem finds himself forced to close Owen at the end of the month. “His lease expired a while ago,” said a source. “He has been a month-to-month tenant that the landlord graciously keeps extending until the redevelopment commences.”
The redevelopment is landlord William Gottlieb Real Estate’s plans to demolish and rebuild the building housing Owen. Gottlieb, along with Aurora Capital Group, is reportedly planning a historic restoration and redevelopment of the block of 48 Gansevoort Street through 74 Gansevoort Street between Greenwich Street and Washington Street. Plans have been submitted to the Department of Buildings and will be presented to Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the fall.
Despite the setback, Salem refuses to be negative. “I have high hopes for the future,” he said. “I’m going to revamp and relaunch the store. This could be the blessing we need to take the store to the next level.”
Owen’s top selling brands include Cushnie et Ochs, Jonathan Simkhai, Acne Studios, Galvan, Jennifer Fisher jewelry, Olcay Gulsen, Tanya Taylor, A.L.C. and Suno. Salem said the store hosted numerous designers in its three and a half years. “We were a full lifestyle boutique where people could come and meet the designers and be styled,” he said.
According to Salem, Owen did almost $2 million in sales in recent years. Online accounted for 20 percent of the business and was quickly growing.
Salem said the arrival of the Whitney Museum and High Line have given the Meatpacking District a higher profile that some developers are taking advantage of. “A lot of landmark buildings have been approved for air space,” Salem said. “All these buildings are getting higher. It’s turning into something I never expected it to turn into: something commercial. There’s a building going up next to Diane Von Furstenburg’s store and studio that’s a 20-story glass modern building.”
Salem said he’s carefully considering his options. “I could have gone somewhere quickly and thrown together something, but I don’t want to lose the identity I’ve worked so hard to get,” he said. “I want to keep the next store consistent with the Owen identity, the clean lines, beautiful racks and great fitting room area.” Owen is striking with a curved installation made from 25,000 paper bags that cover one wall and part of the ceiling creating a canopy with a honeycomb effect. “We really wanted to make a name for ourselves,” Salem said. “When people came in they remembered they were in Owen. On the last day everybody can take a paper bag as a memory.”
“My first two thoughts were my staff and my vendors,” he said. “I had to cancel orders, but I didn’t have one bad or negative comment from vendors. They said they can’t wait to see the next new space. I reached out to every designer about whether they can help my employees. I’m trying to make sure they have somewhere to go after this.”
Salem hopes to open a new Owen in the first or second quarter of 2016. He’s focusing his store search downtown.
While the store is on hiatus, the Owen name will live on through Salem’s handbag collection. His range of geometric, color-blocked designs debuted for holiday 2014. A new collection will bow for spring 2016. Salem’s initial handbag designs retailed from $1,995 to $2,795, and included a color-blocked leather facade with wraparound metal hardware.
For spring 2016, Salem created a lighter, more price-conscious design made of softer leather and lighter hardware that will be priced from $800 to $1,200. “Only having one handle with much softer, leather gussets makes for a much more wearable everyday statement bag,” Salem said of the new design.
Salem said he’ll show the handbags in September during fashion week with an eye toward wholesaling. “We’ll be selling on Owennyc.com and doing a microsite for the handbags,” he said, adding that he has high hopes. “Whose dream isn’t Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York?”
“In the retail business it’s all about patience,” Salem said of his wait-and-see approach regarding the bags’ success.