The Fashion Sensor: First, Garry Steinberg ‘Made’ It in Retail; Then He Turned to Brokering Space for the Same

garry steinberg 8 kk 0 The Fashion Sensor: First, Garry Steinberg ‘Made’ It in Retail; Then He Turned to Brokering Space for the Same

Before diving into the commercial real estate industry, Garry Steinberg honed a reputation as a fashion maven, first as a shaggy-haired young assistant to the disco-era equivalent of shoemaker Jimmy Choo, and later as the owner of a chic women’s knitwear company.

So it was hardly a surprise, then, when Mr. Steinberg greeted a reporter in the cozy lobby of Sierra Realty’s East 46th Street offices decked out in designer threads and a pair of glasses to match. Wearing a charcoal gray suit by Tom Ford and angular Paul Smith frames, the retail broker looked every bit like he’d stepped out of a fashion shoot.

“I think Tom Ford is one of the most talented people in the world,” said the dapper Mr. Steinberg, who joined the firm as a managing director in August following short stints at both GVA Williams and Robert K. Futterman & Associates. “I’m truly surprised he’s not on top of the world right now.

In the fashion industry, certainly, Mr. Ford outshines Mr. Steinberg. In real estate, however, the emerging retail broker is rapidly rising to the top of his field. Indeed, since a bold career transition just three years ago, the Westchester resident has parlayed his eye for fashion into a lucrative tenant-rep hustle. With big-name clients like ABC Carpet & Home, Mr. Steinberg has sprung to life by focusing on high-end fashion, home décor and luxury brands all across the tristate region.

As we speak, Mr. Steinberg is seeking up to 100,000 square feet of space for ABC Carpet, and another client, he said, is in the market for about 20,000 feet. Additionally, he has inked deals for banks, including a pair of transactions back in September and October for branches in Westchester, including one for 4,000 feet, he said.

“With the clients I already mentioned, I’ve been very busy for the past couple of months finding locations–almost too busy finding locations,” said Mr. Steinberg, 61, of his three whirlwind months at Sierra. “The secret of my success has always really been about starting relationships, nurturing them and trying to find out what my clients want. So it’s really been about, how do you make everybody happy?”

Raised in Detroit by parents who had survived the Holocaust, Mr. Steinberg moved to Brooklyn when he was 11 and lived in a dicey corner of the East Village shortly after he graduated from high school. This, remember, was in the years leading up to the 1971 debut of The Panic in Needle Park, a film about Manhattan heroin addicts.

“We had a two-bedroom apartment, and I was paying $39.50 a month,” recalled Mr. Steinberg of the tiny East Village abode he shared with a roommate. “But we couldn’t stay for long. We had to leave after about two months because it was constantly being broken into–as if we even had something to rob. We had nothing.”

A free spirit, Mr. Steinberg grudgingly accepted a job at I. Miller, the one and only shoe store in the city at which the famed cobbler David Evans entrusted his high-priced heels to be sold. It was there the fashion-forward young man parlayed his growing reputation into what he called his unqualified position as a shoe and accessory buyer at Very Very Terry Jerry, a store that boasted Jacqueline Onassis as an early client.

“I’ve always noticed the irony in my life,” said Mr. Steinberg, recalling his early years. “That was the most ironic thing I did because it didn’t take long for anybody to notice I had no idea.”

Nonetheless, the ambitious young fashion buyer persevered, launching a business originally known as 525 Made in America, a New York-based women’s knitwear company with knitting mills in New York and New Jersey. At its height, the company’s signature throw collection held ground as Bloomingdales’ top seller for 14 years, as well as being a hit at Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys.

“We were very well known and kind of loved for our contemporary home knitwear,” said Mr. Steinberg, who had previously owned three other clothing companies before Made in America. “Almost everybody I meet, once they know I was Made in America, tells me they have our throws in their house.”

Mr. Steinberg said his decision to try his hand in the real estate industry came during a one-year sabbatical in which he traveled the country with his son, Zach, who at the time was playing Division I baseball for the University of Rhode Island. During his sojourn, Mr. Steinberg realized that his intense work schedule was cutting into other aspects of his personal and family life.

“I started to travel with him, and it was when I realized I was really missing a lot, and it gave me the inspiration to sell my business,” said Mr. Steinberg, who subsequently sold his company at the height of the market, back in 2006. “I was a workaholic–literally 24/7.”

A former business owner who faced real estate issues through the knitting mills and warehouses he owned, Mr. Steinberg accepted a broker position at GVA Williams in 2007, after Cory Gubner, a former president with the company, took an early shine to him.

Among the clients for whom he inked deals at GVA Williams were Trilogy, Brause Realty, HSBC Bank, Rainbow Clothing and the Avis Rent a Car System, he said. After joining Robert K. Futterman, however, the rising agent increasingly turned his gaze to fashion and home décor, namely ABC Carpet & Home, whom he previously had a relationship with as a business owner. From there, he said, similar relationships have only grown.

“Fashion and retail go hand in hand,” said Mr. Steinberg, who lives with his wife and four boys in Westchester. “Many people get their inspiration from walking the streets of Paris and Milan and get an idea of who their customer may be–and that all gets refined in retail. It goes hand in hand.”

jsederstrom@observer.com