Retail, as we know it, is down-and-out.

Overly optimistic about retail on the Bowery

Who in their right mind still thinks a new building needs retail space?

I shudder every time I see another building going up with one of those “Retail Space for Lease” signs. Such a relic of the past.

Hate to break it to all those developers and landlords but retail, as we have known it, is NOT coming back. And it’s not that people aren’t buying stuff. What’s changed is that we no longer find browsing and shopping a worthwhile or fun activity.

This weekend, I took a walk from my neighborhood on the Lower East Side through Nolita, Soho and the West Village. What I saw in the way of empty storefronts was horrifying.

And for all of us who bought into the idea that “only BORING retail is dead,” I’m not drinking that Kool-Aid anymore. Yes, Nike’s new innovation store on 5th Avenue is great and a top tourist destination but when I really want to buy something, those bells and whistles get in the way. That’s why Walmart (especially online) is doing so well. They offer a sharply-honed retail experience, not a dog and pony show that’s got nothing to do with getting a transaction done.

Real estate developers need to stop fooling themselves that multi-million dollar condos atop “flagship” retail spaces are going to find buyers and renters. It’s not going to happen. We need new ideas that are realistic for today’s times.

And as big a fan as I’ve been of “experiential” retail, I now see it as no more than smoke and mirrors. Experiential is a different business model that’s great for Instagram. If you catch a wave early, you can charge people to come into your space, but as a way to make a sale, it’s absolute BS.

What is even more insane is the trend to no-shopping stores, e.g., Nordstrom’s “Local” shops where you can go to return items that you bought at Macy’s or other rival stores. That’s lunacy.

Nordstrom claims this will work because New Yorkers are picky shoppers and they’ll appreciate the service. I think they’re trying to guilt us into shopping at their stores – but what they’ll undoubtedly find is that New Yorkers are shameless moochers. It’s reminiscent of when Barnes & Noble added Starbucks cafes in order to encourage people to come and read books. Unfortunately, when it came to buying, people logged on to Amazon. Nordstrom likewise, will get a slew of returns dumped there (perhaps) but very little in the way of gratitude or loyalty.

Scroll down for my Top 5 retail destinations plus what downtown New York looks like based on my stroll around the neighborhood last weekend.

My top 5 retailers (where most of my shopping dollars go).

Each one puts “shopping” front and center. They have the product I want and the experience they offer makes the sale, fast and easy. It’s “real” as opposed to smoke and mirrors.

  • Whole Foods (I shop there 3-4 times per week). They’re in the same building as my gym. Generally, spend $300 per month.
  • Walmart – monthly online order for household staples is around $100. They’ve really dialed up their game which explains their 37% increase in sales this past quarter. Very impressed by what they’re doing.
  • Amazon – using them less often as Walmart has improved their selection and service. However, monthly spend is still $50-$75.
  • Sephora – strictly for my red lipstick and Jo Malone fragrance.
  • Rag & Bone is my fashion go-to this year. When it comes to apparel, I’m a bit scattered. I shop at a small group of stores in my neighborhood, especially Wildfang, Madewell, and COS. Where I end up, depends on how each retailer is interpreting that season’s styles. Once a year I also get new glasses (and an eye exam) – always at Warby Parker.
Downtown Manhattan where every block has multiple vacancies.
Former Atrium/Kith space at Broadway and Bleecker
Bleecker and University
West Village
West Village near Seventh Avenue

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