GREAT AMERICAN SHOPPING STREETS
Byline: Michael Marlow / Sharon Edelson / Georgia Lee / Elaine Glusac
LOS ANGELES — Rodeo Drive is in the midst of renewal.
The celebrated Beverly Hills shopping street has added new stores, widened its retail mix and adopted a friendlier attitude for the Nineties. The changes have resulted in a revitalized shopping district that boasts one of its lowest vacancy rates in the past 10 years.
“I don’t know how anybody can be in the luxury goods business and not be on Rodeo Drive,” said David Salz, president and chief executive officer of Alfred Dunhill.
This month, the Austrian hosiery maker Wolford opened a boutique on the 400 block, the northernmost part of Rodeo, filling one of the few remaining vacancies. In the next several weeks, Georges Marciano, Zegna and Iceberg will roll out new stores, joining recent additions Fendi, Istante, Leon Max and Yves Saint Laurent.
“There is a lot of life happening on Rodeo Drive,” said Linda LoRe, president and ceo of Giorgio Beverly Hills. “There is little available space left.”
The Rodeo renewal follows a period of difficulty. While all California retailers have faced tough challenges in the past few years, Rodeo Drive has had to deal with more than most. In addition to a relentless statewide recession and earthquakes, fires and civil unrest, Rodeo Drive has had an image problem.
Few shopping streets reflected the high-flying Eighties as did Rodeo Drive. Judith Krantz set “Scruples,” her best-selling tale of excess and ostentation, in a boutique on the street. But as the glitzy Eighties made way for the more practical Nineties, Rodeo Drive found itself trapped by its own snob appeal — something it had cultivated during better times. Limos that used to jam the street in front of pricy designer storefronts veered a block east to The Gap and Williams-Sonoma on Beverly Drive. Instead of becoming places where locals could relax, Rodeo stores were seen by some, including Gene Pressman, co-chairman of Barneys New York, as snobbish designer “museums.”
In one stroke, the street entered a new era. Few store openings have changed the dynamics of their surrounding neighborhood like Guess Ranch. When the Marciano Brothers, Beverly Hills residents and founders of Guess Inc., opened a western-themed shop to sell their more moderate denim offerings, Rodeo was changed.
“There used to be this label that you could not shop Rodeo Drive unless you were going to spend $1,000,” said Paul Marciano, president and advertising director of Guess. “Then there was the end of the Eighties, when Rodeo Drive took a serious hit. You saw a lot of closings and vacancies. Now, with new stores, it is a place not only for high couture such as Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and Gucci.”
Fred Hayman, the Rodeo Drive shopkeeper who is fashion adviser to the Academy Awards show, said the street has entered a period of understated elegance.
“Now I park the Rolls out front only in the afternoon and not every day,” Hayman said. While the bright yellow Rolls-Royce is still a trademark of the store, Hayman has become more discreet about displaying it outside the store.
The resurgence in retail along the Wilshire corridor hasn’t hurt Rodeo Drive, either. The arrival of Barneys New York a block from Rodeo on Wilshire a year ago has brought a younger, more trend-conscious customer to Beverly Hills. Later this year, Saks is expanding its fashion presence with a new men’s store in the old I. Magnin building. And Bloomingdale’s, which is planning to open on Beverly Drive, a block east, in 1997, is expected to complete the area’s retail picture.
NEW YORK — For two years, Madison Avenue has been in the throes of a major revival, with American and European designers scrambling to lease space along the one-mile corridor from the East 50s to the East 70s.
According to retailers and real estate brokers, the street’s current popularity can be attributed partly to the changes taking place on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 59th Streets and along 57th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues.
While Madison Avenue has broadened its appeal with chains such as Eddie Bauer, H2O Plus and Ann Taylor, it has managed to maintain its cachet with an expanding list of luxury designers. The “mallification” of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, however, are bringing new megastores that is giving the area a more populist flavor.
Goldpfeil, the German leather goods firm, is a good example of a store that now finds Madison a more attractive avenue than Fifth. It had been at 711 Fifth Ave., but recently signed a lease for a 1,400-square-foot store at 777-779 Madison Ave. Its lease on Fifth Avenue was bought out not by a similar type of upscale retailer, but by Disney, which is planning to open a company store similar to the mammoth, touristy and highly successful Warner Bros. Studio Store a few blocks to the north.
“Madison Avenue will be the place for people who are looking for a distinctive, special and elegant place to shop,” said Barbara Weiser, executive vice president of Charivari, which opened a store at 1001 Madison Ave., at 78th Street, last year.
Real estate brokers and retailers trace Madison Avenue’s turning point to the opening of Barneys New York in September 1993. They say that because it was Madison’s first major specialty store for men and women, Barneys helped lure a new crop of young, well-to-do customers to a street that had been a prime shopping area for an older, if no less affluent, audience.
Other big names due on Madison Avenue include Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani, who will open multilevel units later this year. Prada is building a flagship on 70th Street, just east of Madison Avenue. Etro, the Italian accessories manufacturer, is also building a store, on a now-vacant lot on Madison between 63rd and 64th Streets.
Vacancy rates on Madison have dwindled to less than 5 percent, down from 15 percent two years ago. Rent for prime real estate has held steady at $150 to $300 a square foot in the last few years, but brokers said more deals are being made at the higher end.
Faith Hope Consolo, a managing director of Garrick-Aug, a real estate broker, said, “I am negotiating six other leases on Madison Avenue for stores that are occupied, on a buyout basis. There are virtually no stores available.”
PALM BEACH, Fla. — “Where else can you find jewels fit for the crown, $1,200 cashmere socks, world-class fashion and seven-figure paintings, in a setting where people still dress up just to stroll the avenue,” asked John Surovek.
Surovek, president of the Worth Avenue Association, a 47-year-old merchants’ organization that promotes service and organizes special events, and the owner of John H. Surovek Gallery, describes Worth Avenue as “the quintessential avenue of commerce in the world.”
Despite the hyberbole, the collection of ultra-upscale stores — Cartier, Chanel, Escada, Tiffany, HermAs, to name a few — is impressive for a resort area that swells to only 12,000 people at the height of the season.
With over 200 stores set in a three-block area of Palm Beach, Worth Avenue dates back to 1915, when a few shops opened to cater to the carriage trade of super-rich New Englanders and New Yorkers who flocked south to set up winter residences.
While the avenue still banks on this established clientele, now in second and third generations, it also draws a new breed of younger, more international customers. A growing contingent of European, Canadian and South American tourists have boosted year-round business and given Worth Avenue a more youthful, faster-paced ambience.
“We used to have white-gloved, hatted shoppers who had their personal servants press their clothes while they tried things on,” said Lynn Manulis, president of Martha Phillips, whose mother opened Martha’s Palm Beach store in 1944.
Today, the Palm Beach unit, called Martha Phillips, is the only one remaining from the Martha’s chain that included three New York stores and one in Bal Harbour, Fla. While the average unit sale for designer merchandise is around $2,000, and $10,000 gowns are not unusual, bridge lines, such as Augustus, are gaining popularity.
Manulis noted a growing interest in American designers among European tourists.
“These customers have constant access to Paris, and they say, ‘Oh, we have all that, we want American,”‘ she said.
In addition to designer boutiques, a mall-like structure, called the Esplanade, houses more moderately priced stores such as Liz Claiborne and Banana Republic. The recent influx of tourism has made Worth Avenue, once virtually shuttered during summer months, more of a year-round attraction.
“Business is good now in June and July,” said Barbara Cirkva, senior vice president of Chanel Inc. “We only close for three weeks in August.”
With streets modeled after European avenues, illuminated at night by elegant little white lights, and with indulgences such as a “doggie bar,” Worth Avenue has maintained a leisurely Old World quality.
“It’s the last bastion of formal strolling left in the country,” said Surovek. “It’s a neighborhood feeling, with shop owners out cleaning up the streets in the morning, or planting hibiscus trees. Elsewhere, this kind of thing faded in the Sixties. It’s a special patina that we have here. We don’t want to lose it.”
CHICAGO — Chicago’s posh Oak Street has long profited from its proximity to North Michigan Avenue, the city’s major shopping thoroughfare. That’s even truer now that Michigan Avenue is losing some of its historic buildings and replacing them with multilevel, popular-price stores such as Nike Town and Filene’s Basement.
“Filene’s is not a good move for Michigan Avenue,” said Fred Lev, vice president of Koll/Rubloff, a real estate firm here that specializes in retail properties. Filene’s Basement opened here this month and is the area’s first major discounter.
“Stores like Escada, Chanel, Gucci and Henri Bendel have to compete for recognition on the street with a discounter. It doesn’t help the image of the street,” he added.
But here on Oak Street, some of fashion’s biggest names are shoulder-to-shoulder on one block. Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani and HermAs have been joined by Barneys New York, which opened in September; Nicole Miller, which opened in September 1993, and Jil Sander, which made its debut in March 1994. St. John Knits is slated to open in June.
“In 25 years at Ultimo, I’ve seen a lot of things. The street gets better all the time,” said Joan Weinstein, owner of the Sonia Rykiel, Giorgio Armani and Jil Sander shops on Oak Street, as well as the multiline Ultimo boutique.
With rents averaging $75 to $100 per square foot, “the only stores that can make it are fine fashion and jewelry,” said Koll/Rublov’s Lev, who has been leasing space on Oak Street for 13 years.
Nevertheless, the street is kept vital by a diversity of price points, with stores ranging from Gianni Versace to Betsey Johnson. About half the apparel shops are designer — mostly European — and the rest are American better, contemporary and junior sportswear retailers such as Ann Taylor, CP Shades and Sugar Magnolia, a multiline boutique. Designer shops slightly outnumber multiline boutiques. Of the 70 merchants, 80 percent are apparel, the rest a collection of beauty salons and galleries.
Behind the scenes, a savvy Oak Street Council works to preserve and promote the street’s image, gathering $500 in annual dues from each retailer to pay for daily street sweeping, valet parking services, tree maintenance and marketing. While there’s no zoning law against neon or protruding signs, there’s a voluntary design code stores have adhered to that maintains a uniform look.