Third Avenue hosting a retailer spree

Prime shopping pushes below E. 60th as new development raises area's profile

By Lisa Fickenscher

Published on June 09, 2003

Though "for rent" signs have become all too familiar at retail locations throughout the city, they are a rarity on Third Avenue above East 57th Street.

Retailers are expanding their existing spaces there, new stores are moving in and hordes of consumers are shopping in them.

A flurry of development around East 59th Street-including the construction of the new Bloomberg L.P. headquarters and a residential building, as well as an influx of major retailers-is raising the profile of this already robust shopping district.


"Third Avenue is a very strong and underrated street compared with Madison and Fifth avenues," says Steve Blatt, owner of the clothing store Searle, which has two locations on Third Avenue.

Active thoroughfare

Within the past seven months, at least seven retailers have either moved to the bustling avenue or expanded their existing stores there, including Arden b., Gracious Home and Mondrian French Pastry.

The exclusive furniture store Maurice Villency, which moved into a 30,000-square-foot space on East 57th Street in October, is driving some of the recent interest in the neighborhood.

In its first four months, the store attracted 20,000 people, or three times the visitors that its former location on East 35th Street and Madison Avenue brought in annually.

A number of factors convinced the family-run store to move to Third Avenue, including the belief that in a few years it would be shut out of the neighborhood. "There was a lot of potential for the neighborhood, and we felt that we wouldn't be able to get in there once it took off," says Eric Villency.

Another furniture retailer agreed. Earlier this year, Door Store moved into 969 Third Ave., a block north of Maurice Villency, after its lease expired 11 blocks up the avenue.

"I knew it would be good to be between Bloomingdale's and Maurice Villency," says Jodi FitzGerald, president of Secaucus, N.J.-based Door Store.

She was right. The store has been so successful that last month it doubled its space to about 14,000 square feet. The new spot has even boosted sales at its Park Avenue site. "The Third Avenue store has turned into an advertisement for the other store," says Ms. FitzGerald.


The furniture shops are banking on the projects across the street from them to increase foot traffic even more. The Bloomberg building, being developed by Vornado Realty Trust, will have 200,000 square feet of retail space. Another 24,000 square feet of retail space will become available in 18 months or so, once the residential building is completed.

South of the border

The prime shopping area on Third Avenue has traditionally started at East 60th Street. But real estate experts say that better shopping is creeping southward.

"Now, the border has expanded to East 57th Street," says Candice Dobbs of Dobbs Associates Inc., who helped Door Store relocate.

That's because space is so tight farther north. Door Store, which had been in its former location for 13 years, wanted to stay in the vicinity when its lease was up, but it couldn't find anything.

Rents on the avenue, at about $125 to $200 a square foot-though the Vornado space is going for about $300-are a bargain compared with Madison and Fifth avenue rents of $600 to $800 a square foot.

There are some vacancies from East 61st to 65th streets, but they are expected to be snapped up quickly. "For every retailer that moves out, there are three new ones in line to take its place," says Faith Hope Consolo, vice chairman of Garrick-Aug Worldwide, the brokerage firm marketing the spaces.

A case in point is Searle, which recently expanded one of its stores on Third Avenue and is planning to expand the second one. "I'd be very happy if a landlord wanted to offer me another space on Third Avenue," says Mr. Blatt.


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