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Multi concept stores – a sign of the times?

Walking around New York in recent months I have sadly noticed far too many empty shop windows or stores announcing their imminent closing down sales. Sections of 7th Avenue and Hudson in the West Village and Greenwich are desolate. Being a fan of the small independent store that exudes that bit of extra character I am sad to see that they are predominantly the ones bowing out and that the chain stores are sucking the spare cash out of the consumer. Is it the power of discounting or survival of the fittest?

Maybe spurred on by the perception that things can’t get any worse or simply that a group of smarter, small businesses are coming out of the woodwork, a new phenomenon is slowly taking on the battle for the streets. Multi use or multi concept, the heading most of these stores prefer, is a great way of offering the customer several options under one roof without them feeling they’ve got lost in Macy’s.

Jack & Jimbo’s Bike Shop

Some of my friends swear by Jack Spade bags. Going away for the weekend, Jack Spade comes along. Finishing off the MBA, Jack Spade carries your books. And now it seems that these great bags are up for the ride of a new great business idea. The team behind Jack Spade had noticed that the personal kit of many of New York’s cyclists (Mayor Bloomberg is doing his best to make NYC the most bike friendly city in the world) included one of their bags. In a fashion that gives a completely new meaning to the term add on sales they opened up a bike repair shop in their Bleecker Street location. The store is tiny, but somehow they manage to offer you a decent bag selection as well as a basic tune-up, tire repair and conversions of bikes to fixed gear without leaving you covered in grease. This is one cool bike shed.

The Smile

Have you ever walked into a store and felt immediately welcome? If you haven’t, you must visit The Smile, the two-storey café and mixed concept shop by Carlos Quirarte and Matt Kliegman. Greeted at the door by a lovely sales advisor, who could only be described as the perfect host, she enthusiastically introduced me to the variety of services within the store. To the right is the knitting section (making your own clothes is so now) where you can purchase all you need to knit a scarf, a jumper, a slouchy cardigan or even a handbag by the brand Wool & The Gang. The materials, instructions and needles are handily packed in what looks like a large flour bag. Worried that your knitting won’t match your Nan’s craftsmanship then join the in-store knitting club on a Sunday afternoon in the café that takes up the back of the store.

The coffee is delicious as are the breakfast and lunch items on the menu. Cosy, but stylish the room manages to offer homely warmth when eating cake with your mum or impresses the date by its western lounge style. If you fall madly in love you can pop downstairs to the basement and seal it with a touch of ink at the tattoo parlour run by the renowned tattoo artist Scott Campbell.

The Dressingroom

With a non-descript façade on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side you could easily walk past The Dressingroom without realising that you are passing a unique three part retail environment. On the ground floor is a cooperative boutique for local emerging designers and a bar (which also works as a screening room and social forum for people in the industry) where you can relax should the retail therapy not be working. Downstairs is a clothing exchange featuring vintage and second hand pieces. In a time of need you may chose to have a wardrobe clear out as the exchange offers (for any item sold) 50% of the item’s value in credit toward purchases, 60% in bar credit or 30% in cash. When did Oxfam ever give you a free drink?

Amongst the emerging designers are Alissa Chapman, a FIT graduate, who spent six months in Paris and will soon be launching her idea of the perfect pair of jeans; Rubytone offers a range of both jewellery and apparel that mixes old Hollywood glamour and street fashion of New York and Divine Tribe makes the most beautiful, edgy pieces of accessories including jewellery and handbags which are considered keepsakes by fans, who include Cameron Diaz and Uma Thurman.

Eva New York

Having spent many a day trawling the streets of New York with friends and family wanting to go shopping and personally being desperate for a bit of culture, trying very hard to smile as I once again cross the threshold of Club Monaco, Gap, Banana Republic and Macy’s I have finally found the perfect shop. Okay, the clothes aren’t going to get anywhere near my mum’s wardrobe, but Eva New York offers cutting edge designer clothes at reasonable prices as well as art installations and performance art.

From the outside it looks like a gallery that got lost on its way to Chelsea, and inside it is booming with great designs by (amongst others) Henrik Vibskov, a Dane who graduated from St. Martins and who is heavily involved in visual art and music as well as designing beautiful tailored clothes. C Neeon from Berlin is of a similar ilk but has a great selection of 80s inspired clothing with brilliant detailing in deliciously soft silks.

When I visited, the photo exhibition Oral Fixation by Cecilia Jurado was covering the walls. $400 for a piece of original art didn’t sound like such a bad idea until I remembered that my husband would never believe that art and clothes could be under the same roof and would think that the new top from TV, an Australian label, had cost $620. Or maybe I should have hidden the top and made him believe that I’d spent the amount on art instead. That would almost constitute for a free top and surely that’s a money saving tip if you ever needed one!

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