Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — As SoHo has been transformed into a high-end mecca, nearby Lower Broadway has turned into an open-air suburban mall.
The stretch of Broadway from Canal Street to 8th Street, which intersects the SoHo, NoHo and Lower East Side districts of Manhattan, is one of the most popular shopping sites in the city, judging by the ever-present crowds.
However, the only tenants who can afford to set up shop there now are large, multistore retailers or companies with deep pockets. While this area used to be known for trendy, hip stores not found in every mall, skyrocketing rents have forced many Broadway retailers to move and have pushed new and smaller boutiques farther east to NoLIta and the Lower East Side.
“Rents have chased a lot of retailers to other areas of the city,” said Jeff Roseman, a real-estate broker at Newmark New Spectrum Realty, whose firm has been active in developing the Lower Broadway area. “Many companies are having to find other enclaves to do their business.”
When Urban Outfitters moved to Lower Broadway about 15 years ago, the asking rental price was $25 a square foot, but rents have now soared to about $150 a square foot, according to Roseman.
Among the tenants who have flocked to Broadway in recent years are Banana Republic, Zara, Old Navy, Wet Seal, Eddie Bauer, Guess and Club Monaco, as well as Kenneth Cole, Victoria’s Secret, Claire’s Accessories and Armani Exchange. Soon to open on the strip are Ann Taylor Loft, the fast-growing Swedish chain H&M and Zale Corp., the mall-based jewelry specialist.
Similar to other areas of SoHo, this section of the city used to be mostly manufacturing, but as that sector moved out of the city and overseas, retailers jumped into the cavernous spaces. Among the pioneers were Canal Jean Co. and Urban Outfitters, both of which still have stores in the neighborhood, as well as shops like Unique Clothing Warehouse, which has since closed.
“When Urban opened, I remember thinking it was too far south and wouldn’t see much traffic,” Roseman recalled. “They were instrumental in changing the area.”
Nonetheless, a few smaller stores have managed to stay afloat, including discount chains such as Wings, a jean and sportswear retailer on Broadway between Bond and Bleeker Streets, as well as Jimmy Jazz, a local chain that carries a variety of urbanwear labels, and Warehouse.
Now, at least one nonchain firm is planning to jump into the fray.
Fiorucci, the once-hot Italian label, is planning to open a 25,000-square-foot superstore at 622 Broadway next to Urban Outfitters. The multi-million-dollar renovation project will transform four former existing retail spots into one store.
“We wanted to be there because of the traffic,” said Stephen Budd, executive vice president of Fiorucci North America, who is overseeing the construction of the store. “Also, we found the space that was large enough for what we wanted to do.”
Slated to open this spring, the Fiorucci store will include a variety of labels, as well as a hair salon and cafe, according to Budd.
Some stores like the area so much they are opening two units. Le Chateau, a trendy Canadian retailer, has had a store on Houston and Broadway for about 10 years, and the company recently opened another unit on West Fourth and Broadway. In a recent interview, the company said it does not feel that having the stores so close is a problem, particularly since the neighborhood is one of the city’s densest shopping districts.

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