There’s life outside of Manhattan when it comes to streetwear stores.
Although Manhattan gets all the attention, there are streetwear boutiques and shops in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Harlem, Washington Heights, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains and throughout the tri-state area that have long, successful histories.
Specialty stores in New York’s outer boroughs and neighborhoods north of the city service savvy consumers seeking a premium boutique experience from local streetwear purveyors. Stores like Vinnies, serving downtown Brooklyn for 20 years; rapper Fat Joe’s Up NYC in Washington Heights; Capsule in Harlem and the Bronx; Sesinko on Southern Boulevard, and Nohble in New Jersey, the Bronx and Washington Heights are a few stops for consumers seeking new Nike, Jordan, Adidas and Puma sneakers and brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, Ksubi, Advisory Board Crystals and Paper Planes, among others.
But these under-the-radar retailers are also introducing their customers to some brands they may not have seen before, such as Gramicci, Maua Kea and Bravest. That’s just one of the ways they stay connected to their customers. Another ingredient to their success is that these merchants are supportive of the communities in which they operate. Case in point: Woodstack will be holding a West Indian celebration with Paper Planes in Bushwick this month, and TakoutNY recently teamed with a local restaurant to launch the Puerto Rico Nike Air Force 1.
Here are a few of the standout stores serving the streetwear customer in the New York City area.
Woodstack opened its 10th location in New York City in Bushwick in March, joining Greenpoint, Flatbush, Sheepshead Bay and Lindenwood in N.Y., Newark and Union in New Jersey, and three stores in Brownsville, N.Y., including the flagship Woodstack location on 98th Street as well as a women’s Ivy store and a children’s Treehouse.
Owner Sunny Singh opened the first Woodstack store in October 2011 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the neighborhood he settled in and made his home. “Sunny comes from a retail background and has always loved denim and sneakers,” said Woodstack chief operating officer Mary Morris. “He emigrated from India when sneakers and denim weren’t a thing.”
Since expanding to new doors, each store reflects the neighborhood. For instance, the Sheepshead Bay store has product more popular with the neighborhood’s Russian and Chinese community compared to Flatbush and Brownsville’s heavily West Indian influences.
“Some retailers can’t approach a neighborhood door,” said Khiana Lowe, marketing director of Woodstack. “You don’t have to speak to the culture in SoHo, but with outer borough stores, you have to respond to the neighborhood.”
Morris and Lowe said brands like Paper Planes, denim label Valabasas, known for its stacked denim, and New Balance are best sellers at the new Bushwick store. Other brands available in the store include Nike, Jordan, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ksubi, Lacoste, G-Star Raw, Juicy Couture, Billionaire Boys Club, Avirex and Melody Ehsani.
Lowe said the community interaction is the “biggest appeal” of Woodstack, whether that’s hiring from the neighborhood or working with local artisans. For the Bushwick store, the team tapped Bushwick-based artist Crystal Clarity to paint a mural for the store’s entrance that has African violets, New York City powerlines and shoelaces inspired by the streetwear culture, Black history and healing the neighborhood during COVID-19.
For its 10th anniversary in 2021, Woodstack celebrated with an Everybody Eats food giveaway with local food partners Brooklyn Blend and Kemar at its 98th Street, Lindenwood, Flatbush and Newark locations, and will hold the event again this month at the 98th Street location, partnering with Adidas, Brooklyn Blend and Naaya Wellness.
In August, the retailer and Paper Planes will launch a collaborative T-shirt for the West Indian Day Parade during Labor Day Weekend and host a block party at the Flatbush store on Sept. 1, ahead of Labor Day.
Woodstack, like all retailers, was forced to close its doors during lockdown, but managed to transition most of the business online.
“Many brands approved us to sell online [during lockdown] and our New Jersey stores opened first when things started to open,” Morris said. “Newark was our fourth or fifth in terms of volume, but once we opened, everyone went there. To this day, Newark is our number-one or number-two store every week.”
But Brownsville remains the number-one store in the fleet. “For 98th Street, there is no price resistance,” Morris said. “The Brownsville customer wants what’s first and what no one else has. We sell Avirex there and it’s limited, but once they know we have that they’ll come to us for it. It’s what sets neighborhood retail apart from big-box retail.
“Business remains really good,” Morris continued. “Many people think business is shifting online, but there are a lot of consumers that buy in store. The reality of online shopping is that it isn’t as convenient. Customers want to touch the product and buy an outfit for that night and can’t wait for shipping. The need to have it now is another reason why we will always be relevant.”
TakoutNY had been described as the mom-and-pop version of Modell’s, a now-defunct family-owned sporting goods chain in New York. But that was before owner Frank Ko set out to reinvent the business.
“Frank was looking to rebrand,” said brand manager Sam Park. “He wanted to change and redo everything — from policy and procedures and staffing to what brands we carry moving forward.”
Park, who has spent more than 15 years in retail, helping to launch Stadium Goods and working at Bape leading its U.S. retail operation, joined Takout in April 2021. He left Bape during the pandemic and met Ko before joining the team.
TakoutNY operates two stores, one in the Bronx and the other in Washington Heights, and like Woodstack, seeks to engage the local community. In June, Takout held an event with local Bronx restaurant La Cocina Boricua to celebrate the release of the Nike Air Force 1 “Puerto Rico” sneakers and gifted the first 15 entrants a custom New Era Takout x La Cocina Boricua New York Yankees fitted cap. The store held a similar event in 2021 for the Air Max 97 “Puerto Rican Day” sneakers.
“Many of our accounts got upgraded in the last six months,” Park said. “We’re a neighborhood tier Jordan account; we just started carrying Woolrich, Bravest Studio and Gramicci in the fall, along with Krink, and we’ve started dabbling in denim. We just opened Vans, we have On Running and the highest Timberland tier you can get.”
Being able to sell these brands is a badge of honor for a Bronx retailer.
“There is a stigma and brands don’t want to allocate product to the Bronx,” Ko said. “People think the Bronx still dresses like it’s the 2000s. Our consumer is more sophisticated than the brands think they are. When we introduced Gramicci, our customer was receptive and tried something new. Much of the selections being offered downtown are being bought by tourists. Brands have to feel confident in putting an investment in the community. You have to put your neck out there sometimes.”
Park said sales are strong, thanks in part to the fact that inventory is “30 to 40 percent” over 2021. “We had a lot of supply chain issues,” Park said. “We’re seeing a lot of efforts being realized in the last couple of months, but we’re still not where we want to be in terms of inventory.”
Industry veteran Trevor Delmore opened streetwear destination Buttafly in Mount Vernon in 2021, serving as a blueprint of what new retail boutiques in the city could look like.
“2021 was good for us,” said consultant Jude Sainjour. “We’ve had our challenges but stayed focused and come out ahead,” Delmore added.
One thing that has helped boost business is the assortment the store offers. Buttafly stocks brands such as Paper Planes, Billionaire Boys Club, Ksubi, 424, And Wander and Diet Starts Monday, among others. “We’ve been able to acquire more brands and desirable brands.” But they admitted that working with some national and international labels can be difficult for small independent streetwear stores.
“Some brands don’t get it in terms of where we are,” Delmore said. “But we make sure the barriers continue to fall as time goes on. I think New York is a mecca of fashion in general. We still drive a lot of trends. I think people need to stop overlooking us and think of who pushes the envelope on fashion.”
Those same brands are offered on the company’s website, which was recently reengineered. Delmore said having a strong e-commerce business keeps retailers in the game and adds a dimension to marketing and branding, allowing them to serve customers outside their local area.
That being said, Buttafly pays close attention to its physical location and attracts shoppers from not only Mount Vernon but the surrounding White Plains and Yonkers areas, as well as elsewhere in Westchester County.
Buttafly connected deeper with the community by hosting local food drives during the holiday season with support from Puma, and holding an event with stylist Groovey Lew, who has worked with the likes of Notorious B.I.G., Nipsey Hussle and Sean “Diddy” Combs. The event is part of Delmore’s mission to carry the torch for the city’s rich hip-hop history as the birthplace and/or hometown of Combs, Pete Rock and the late talents Heavy D and DMX.
“We’re doing what we need to do to get the word spread,” they said. “It’s super important that you are touching the community and letting them know you’re real. It’s easy to see an online presence, but you need it to invite people in and show you relate to them. We saw much success with the event and now they know about us. It’s not just transactional. There’s a greater purpose than just selling goods.”
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