On Monday, the door to the new and expanded Beacon’s Closet, a consignment shop now on the corner of Warren Street and Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, opened. Along with a burst of cold air came not a customer but a stink bomb.
"All I heard was a bang and then ahhhh," said Tiffany, a blonde, tweed-laden shopgirl, as she mimicked the reaction by covering her face with both hands. Though, she added, customers continued shopping despite the stinky interruption.
Retailers across Brooklyn hope that will prove true for consumers this holiday season, despite the foul retail forecast.
"I think there’s a certain amount of fear in everybody that people will not come out and spend," said Peter Meyer, chair of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and a president at TD North Bank. "Though we’re hoping they will spend for the holiday season and, if they do, that they keep it here locally in Brooklyn."
It was Wednesday and Mr. Meyer and Borough President Marty Markowitz had just wrapped up a press conference on the Fulton Mall to announce Shop Brooklyn, a new initiative aimed at attracting tourists to the borough’s retail sector and keeping Brooklyn dollars in the borough. A new Web site, www.ishopbrooklyn.com will aggregate information on participating retailers, who will display Shop Brooklyn signs in their windows advertising sales.
"I feel very strongly that we have not an obligation, but that we should look into our backyard before we search the Web or get in the cars and go to some other state – that we ought to be spending and shopping locally," said a bundled-up and admittedly worried Mr. Markowitz. "This way you’ll spend more time shopping and less time traveling; and at the same time you’re helping the retail climate in the borough, so it’s a win-win for everybody."
Over the last decade, Brooklyn retail has paralleled the residential boom, with new shops, restaurants and entertainment opening to cater to residents new and old. In recent years Target, Ikea, Urban Outfitters, Circuit City and Trader Joe’s have opened big-box stores, while small businesses boomed along major commercial and residential corridors like Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, and Smith Street in Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill.
Across the spectrum, the diversity of price points offered to consumers include everything from high-end fashion to the Fulton Mall; Trader Joe’s to tiny Hana Foods in Williamsburg. Now, in the midst of an economic slowdown, one has to wonder who will survive.
ON BROADWAY IN SOUTH Williamsburg, which has seen revitalization in recent years, sits designer menswear shop Yoko Devereaux, founded by creative director Andy Salzer in 2001. The comfy men’s sweaters, blazers and slacks combine a dash of uptown professionalism with a healthy dose of downtown style.
"I definitely think that, across the board, retail is getting pinched," Mr. Salzer said. "Who will survive? Sadly, since my crystal ball is broken, I have no idea who will make it through this."
Yoko Devereaux has sought to diversify by launching a jewelry line called Old Money, which ironically transforms vintage coins into necklaces; designing dress shirts for the staff of the Tribeca and Soho Grand Hotels; and collaborating with Mexico City-based housewares company DFC on a line of functional artwork.
"I don’t know if they ease worries, but those kinds of projects definitely create additional revenue streams and, of course, they’re extremely fun to work on," Mr. Salzer said. "Any opportunity to connect with your customer is important – not only for the brand but also for the bottom line of your business – more so now than ever."
The easiest way to connect with your consumer is, of course, to have a sale. Reaching out to customers, via an email list or advertising, is also important, and stores with a core consumer base definitely have a leg up in a bad economic climate.
With Black Friday approaching – or Brooklyn Friday as Mr. Markowitz proclaimed – retailers are gearing up for the shopping season and hope to attract customers by knocking prices down.
"Every type of customer is undoubtedly looking for ways to have a great holiday, but simultaneously a much thriftier holiday," Mr. Salzer said, adding that Yoko Devereaux’s current collection will go on sale on Black Friday, with a bi-annual sample sale beginning Dec. 12. "It makes sense that we really respect our customer’s situation right now."
And what of the jobs retailers provide throughout the borough? "Of course I’m worried," said Mr. Markowitz, standing on the bustling corner of Fulton and Jay streets, near Borough Hall. "If retailers have a reduction of activity, they’ll lay off Brooklyn workers – most of them employ Brooklynites and that worries me very, very much, and it hurts our commercial areas. It hurts our neighborhoods if there are empty stores, it’s not a healthy thing."
BUT BACK AT BEACON’S Closet, I had done well for myself. Tiffany had sorted through two bags of my unwanted garb and determined that she could sell a portion of it for $264 retail. With my options to cash in 35 percent or spend 55 percent of that money in the store, I opted for the cash. Behind me, a Park Slope dad had the same idea.
"The economy’s bad," he shrugged, collecting his bounty.