Fifth Avenue, New York, Retail Localization

Taking the Fifth

How chain stores turned NYC’s most glamorous avenue into America’s glitziest mall.

“I thought we got rid of Disney and the NBA Store, and we were going to get some grand, luxury emporium,” sniffs Hayley Corwick, the Upper East Side blogger behind shopping site Madison Avenue Spy. “Things were looking up. And all of a sudden, it was Hollister and Uniqlo. It’s mystifying. The walk from Bergdorf to Saks used to be a dazzling window shopping experience, and now I find it a little more like the new 42nd Street.”

Fifth Avenue, New York, Retail Localization

Fifth Avenue has been the city’s most extravagant residential street for 150 years, ever since Caroline Schermerhorn Astor announced its arrival by moving to the corner of Fifth and 34th Street in 1862. As the moneyed class proliferated, a tony shopping district soon followed, with Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor’s flagship stores opening in 1914 and Saks Fifth Avenue debuting 10 years later.

For decades, the stretch between 49th and 60th streets was one of the most expensive in the world, dotted with high-end boutiques such as Cartier, Henri Bendel, Harry Winston and Louis Vuitton. Perhaps its most celebrated shop is Tiffany & Co., where Holly Golightly dreamed of finding a more glamorous life — and the man who’d pay for it all.

Now the only retailers who can afford to pay as much as $2,500 a square foot — Uniqlo forked over $300 million for a 15-year lease at 666 Fifth Ave. — are mass market operations such as American Girl, Swatch and Nine West, which consider their shiny new flagships important marketing tools.

“Fifth Avenue is one of the most important shopping destinations in the world,” says Uniqlo USA CEO Shin Odake. “Therefore opening Uniqlo Fifth Avenue was an important step for us in our expansion in the US.”

Last November, the real estate world was shocked when Forever21 took up temporary residence in the distinguished digs formerly occupied by Takashimaya. The elegant six-story Japanese emporium opened in 1958 and was bursting with treasures, from exotic teas to fine china to posh cosmetics.


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