Between consumers’ switch from brick-and-mortar to online shopping and the arrival of Covid-19, physical retail around the world has taken a savage hit of late. This change was especially evident in New York City during the recent holiday season where store windows that once housed vibrant Christmas-themed displays were instead dark at the former locations of Lord & Taylor and Barneys New York, among many others, and the formerly bustling streets in SoHo completely lacked the usual gaggles of tourists wielding overstuffed shopping bags and gleeful smiles about perfect finds.

The city’s store closures have ranged from huge, well-known names such as Neiman Marcus, the anchor of the recently opened Hudson Yards complex, pulling the plug on that location after just 16 months or JCPenney shuttering its only Manhattan flagship–which neighbored its competitor Macy’s in Herald Square–after 11 years to chains such as Modell’s, a sporting goods and activewear retailer, going completely under or wee yet beloved mom-and-pop boutiques that simply could no longer survive.

The retail crisis hits New York City hard
Photo: Christopher Blomquist
The retail crisis hits New York City hard
However, among all this carnage, some stores were particularly painful to bid adieu to as they offered concepts–and hard-won, deserved reputations for excellence–that truly enlivened and enriched New York’s retail scene and helped make the city arguably the greatest fashion-shopping destination in the entire continent.

Here are five, in alphabetical order, that will be severely missed and always remembered….


3x1
One of the few stores that fell prior to Covid-19, 3x1 at 15 Mercer Street in SoHo permanently closed in January 2020. When the flagship of denim veteran (Earnest Sewn, Paper Denim and Cloth, etc.) Scott Morrison’s new bespoke denim line opened more than nine years before, the shop dazzled with an onsite factory where customers could see their jeans being cut and sewn after they selected fabric from the multiple bolts of denim that lined the impressive shops walls.
Store of denim brand 3x1
Photo: 3x1
Store of denim brand 3x1
Ultimately, Morrison decided to close the store due to a combination of personal and professional reasons. Three years prior he and his wife Gracileia gave birth to a son, Leo, with a rare genetic disorder, Bainbridge-Ropers Syndrome. They later started a still active non-profit, Leo’s Lighthouse Foundation (see http://www.leoslighthouse.org), to raise money and awareness for BRS. Morrison said he felt the need to return to his native West Coast to rely on a bigger family support system just as the lease on the store was running out.

“Our retail lease was coming to an end in Jan 2020, and our wholesale business was feeling the impacts of Barneys closure and a huge slowdown in our international business in Asia, etc. Business was absolutely more challenging in 2019 than in any year before, and the prospects for 2020 seemed even leaner,” he explained to SI at the time. “We thought a lot about how to proceed as we all loved the Custom & Bespoke business, but nothing really made financial sense. The asking rent was simply too much for the business we were doing in the existing space in SoHo. We looked for smaller, more manageable locations but nothing really worked with the necessary factory set up. We also looked at a couple possible strategic partnerships to expand the business and take part of it to California, which would have been most ideal, but nothing materialized.”

Although the store did close, 3x1’s wholesale business was taken over by its European distributor, In Style, as of spring 2020 and Morrison currently works as a consultant for other brands.


Barneys New York
Once, and up until quite recently, the undisputed king of New York’s luxury fashion department stores, 97-year-old Barneys sealed its legendary Madison Avenue flagship and spinoff location in Chelsea, which (re)opened its doors–at the original Barneys location a mere four years before–on February 22, 2020 after declaring bankruptcy (again) a few months before.

The brand/label name has been purchased by Authentic Brands, which has promised to reboot as a special section at Saks Fifth Avenue. That has yet to debut.
An empty Barneys store in Chelsea
Photo: Christopher Blomquist
An empty Barneys store in Chelsea
In addition to being a painful loss for New York consumers, the closure had negative ripple effects on brands such as 3x1, which years before would have considered being stocked by the storied retailer as a sure sign of success.

In addition to stocking some of the world’s best and most directional labels, the store was famous for its cleverly creative holiday window displays by creative ambassador-at-large Simon Doonan.

Their lack of existence in 2020 was another reminder of how Barneys was indeed an adored anchor and VIP of New York’s retail scene.


Century 21
Much like its far more expensive colleague Barneys, department store Century 21 was also known for its impressive designer selection–but at prices that were far, far less expensive than the latter. The legendary discount chain, founded in 1961 by cousins Sonny and Al Gindo, filed for bankruptcy in September 2020 and announced that it was closing all 13 of its locations, including its main branch in downtown Manhattan, steps across from the World Trade Center. It managed to survive even after the destruction of the area on 9/11.
Screen shot of Century 21's website
Photo: Century 21
Screen shot of Century 21's website
Bargain hunters and frugal fashionistas mourned the demise of the homegrown chain, which was indeed a virtual treasure chest/hunt of designer discounts that offered sample-sale prices in an old-school retail environment.


Jeffrey
Jeffrey Kalinsky was the first retailer to help transform Manhattan’s Meatpacking District from scuzzy to chic when he opened a branch of his eponymous high-end multibrand Atlanta boutique there on West 14th Street in 1999. The effect he set off was domino-esque and soon his New York neighbors included famed designer names such as Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.

Much like Barneys, being stocked at Jeffrey was a clear sign that a brand had “made it” and the store was known for its impeccable selection and clientele–as well as its annual “Jeffrey Cares” fundraising events/fashion shows that raised well over $10 million for LGBQT support organizations.
Window sign at Jeffrey
Photo: Christopher Blomquist
Window sign at Jeffrey
The Jeffrey boutiques and brand names were sold to Nordstrom in 2005 and Kalinsky continued to run his namesake stores and work as a consultant for the new owner.

In spring 2020 he announced via Instagram that the parent company had decided to close the stores–which included another in Palto Alto, California–permanently due to the downturn because of Covid-19.

Just last week, the Meatpacking location remained empty save for some naked mannequins, goodbye notes in the windows and heavy metal gates over the entrance.


Opening Ceremony
Though not as posh as either Barneys or Jeffrey, Opening Ceremony was arguably an even more influential seller of up-and-coming brands. Opened in 2002 by Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, the store on Howard Street in downtown Manhattan began as a revolving selection of clothing by designers from a featured country each season but soon morphed into a hip hub of apparel and accessories from undiscovered newcomers and established labels rebranded for a younger audience via one-offs and collaborations.

The founders built a cultlike audience and eventually launched an in-house label, their own showroom, satellite stores in other cities and were named creative directors at Kenzo.
Screen shot of Opening Ceremony's closing announcement on Instagram
Photo: Instagram
Screen shot of Opening Ceremony's closing announcement on Instagram
New Guards Group bought a majority stake of Opening Ceremony in January 2020 and as part of the announcement, Lim and Leon said that they were closing all their physical stores to concentrate on their in-house label only.
Due to Covid-19 lockdowns, they were unable to be present when the original location closed its doors this past spring.



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