Silence at Tiffany's

I went to the Tiffany’s flagship on 57th Street yesterday and the newer branch on Wall Street to see how the world’s second-largest luxury jewelry retailer is faring in the lead up to Valentine’s Day (and in the wake of the credit crisis).

Before I was politely shown the door and referred to PR, I managed to glean a few tidbits from the elevator attendant at the midtown branch.

He said there is always “a downturn” after the holidays because people need to “recuperate," and things are just starting to pick up again now.

“We’ve got a lot of tourists lately because the euro’s doing really well,” he said, chuckling. “But they’re buying so we’re not complaining.”

The few patrons milling around at the midtown Tiffany’s on Monday morning did appear to be tourists—a group of women who presumably had just braved the chill outside of the Today Show toted NBC shopping bags; a pair of German-speaking tourists eyed the baubles on the second-floor; a matronly woman explained the history of a piece of jewelry to a Japanese tour group; and a couple of teenage girls asked for two of the famous blue bags as souvenirs. But few seemed to be buying much.

After the sales associates refused to speak to me and the manager informed me that Tiffany’s was a publicly traded company so no one could answer my questions, I made my way down to the new branch on Wall Street, which was even more desolate as the lunch hour approached.

The 7,700-square-foot, Costas Kondylis-designed store opened last fall–back when Wall Street still appeared to be impervious to the credit crisis–to cater to big-spending I-bankers, so how’s the store faring now that subprime woes have penetrated Manhattan? Judging by the level of customer traffic, not so well.

Sales people stood idle on the floor, shifting their weight from one foot to the other. A staffer (presumably a janitor based on the uniform he wore) told me that customers always come and go in waves and things would probably pick up after five, when the work day ends.

Optimism aside, with Valentine’s Day approaching and most bank bonuses doled out around a month ago, the empty store does not bode well. Tiffany’s reduced its 2008 earnings forecast in January, after a lackluster holiday season when sales at most of its 187 U.S. locations dropped 2 percent year-over-year.

Silence at Tiffany's