Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — What started off 65 years ago as a small corner pharmacy has gradually evolved into a chic Upper East Side beauty boutique.
While Clyde’s on Madison still fills prescriptions — and sells a hefty amount of Maybelline Great Lash mascara along with the stray bag of Pampers — the lion’s share of the store is devoted to upscale beauty brands like Chanel, Shiseido, Anna Sui and Elizabeth Arden.
The space has come a long way in the two years since William Friedland — of the New York real estate Friedlands — and his family acquired Clyde’s from their tenants, a group of pharmacists. “It’s an enormous jump from real estate to beauty,” said Friedland, who is now vice president of Clyde’s, with a laugh. “But my father, Larry, and my uncle, Mel, both went to pharmacy school and thought owning a pharmacy would be great. And the first thing that we realized was that in order to stay competitive in our area, we needed to expand the merchandise mix.”
Friedland called upon three expert shoppers for advice: his two sisters and his mother. “They’re pretty much our ideal customers: well-traveled, sophisticated women with great taste,” he said. “Of course, we hired expert consultants and a store manager — and we’ve just hired a terrific former Saks buyer — but my mother and sisters still give great advice.” In fact, one of sister Pamela’s first picks — Alexandre de Paris barrettes which she’d seen in Paris — still ranks among Clyde’s top sellers.
The assortment is bigger than ever, now that the Friedlands have finished knocking out walls. The once 1,000-square-foot store is now more than 7,000 square feet, with two entrances facing Madison Avenue.
“It’s a whole new Clyde’s,” said Friedland. “We have the space now to expand our assortment in so many different ways — we’ve not only added to our cosmetics lines, but we’ve also been able to substantially expand our accessories areas.”
Glass-fronted display cases for fragrance and countertop displays for several cosmetics and skin care brands create the feeling of being in a department store — exactly the mood Friedland was after. “We like to think of ourselves as a junior department store, rather than a pharmacy,” he said. “Our aim is to be the fashion center of upper Madison Avenue.”
Twelve cosmeticians are on hand to assist customers, and a staff herbalist also advises clients. For those with more money than time, two personal shoppers are on call to put assortments together. Free delivery and gift wrapping sweeten the deal.
Top brands, Friedland said, include Shiseido — Clyde’s has a “store-within-a-store” for the brand — and French skin care line Guinot. He’s also happy with the performance of youth-oriented lines like Tony & Tina and Bloom and limited-distribution brands like Neal’s Yard.
He does, however, have a soft spot in his heart for Shiseido, which he promotes with prime window space and a large counter near one entrance. “They were our first upscale line, and after they joined us, many others followed,” he said. “Upscale beauty vendors seem to travel in packs. Once they see their competitors in your store, they’ll sell to you.” Julie Troy, Clyde’s merchandise manager and a former accessories buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue, wants the space to be more than a lipstick destination, however. “When clients come in, they can buy everything from fragrance, makeup and an evening bag to a great shaving brush for their husband and a bag of Pampers for the baby,” Troy pointed out. “We have something for everyone.”
Along one wall — across from a jewelry case packed with everything from Judith Jack marcasite necklaces to elaborate earrings — Rafi evening bags keep company with Fendi cosmetics bags, Eric Javits hats and Kwanpen purses. (Clyde’s has a New York exclusive on the Asian exotic-skinned bags). There’s also an entire wall of prestige hair accessories from top names like Colette Malouf.
While Clyde’s draws a significant percentage of its customers from local residents, its location a block from the Whitney Museum also pulls an out-of-town crowd, said Friedland. About 80 percent of the shop’s clientele is female, he noted, although he’s seen continued strength in the men’s brands the store carries. “Of course,” he laughed, “most of them are purchased by women.”
While Friedland declined to comment on the store’s annual volume, industry sources estimated that the store — with its expanded focus — would do about $12 million in the next 12 months.
Eventually, Friedland hopes to roll out the concept nationally. “Our short-term focus is on getting the word out about the new Clyde’s, but longer range, if the formula works well, we’d love to roll it out across the U.S.,” said Friedland. “There’s no real concept nationally for a cosmetics and accessories boutique — no national department stores roll out just their first floor, without shoes and dresses and such. We’d like to be the first.”