Editor’s note: The Lower East Side has been a bastion of entrepreneurship for many decades. In the last couple of years, one trend being seen here and elsewhere is the establishment of “hybrid stores.” Reporter Wyatt Marshall talks with some of the business owners experimenting with this growing retail phenomenon:
The next time you find yourself browsing the racks for board shorts and need a little pick-me-up, why not grab that latte at the same store?
You can do just that at Lost Weekend on Orchard Street and fulfill a number of other one-stop shopping missions in the neighborhood. On streets that were once lined with mom-and-pops that have long since shuttered their windows, hybrid stores are thriving.
Hybrid shops, combining two or more types of businesses, have sprung up on the Lower East Side, and beyond, to serve hip and demanding consumers who have a blasé attitude towards more traditional stores. The combinations are diverse and often eyebrow-raising: the Dressing Room, also on Orchard Street, is a bar, co-op clothing boutique, and vintage clothing exchange. Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg is a bowling alley and a concert space. Beauty Bar, with 10 locations nationwide, 5 of which opened in the last two years, is a bar where patrons can get a manicure while they sip a martini. Saturdays Surf, in SoHo, was the original coffee and clothing store in Lower Manhattan.
“Stores that sell one thing are at a disadvantage,” said Michael Little, co-owner of Lost Weekend NYC. “It’s all about catering to a clientele. You go to Prada, they give you champagne – I guess. Here, you get a cup of coffee, you see some board shorts you like and some hair products.”
Creating a retail or nightlife environment that aims to sell a lifestyle involves stocking products or offering experiences that appeal to a certain consumer across his or her diverse interests. That requires careful curating.
Lost Weekend NYC, in addition to being one of the only places to get San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee in Manhattan, sells Malin + Goetz grooming products and Saltbox clothing, a line that Barneys carries. Twelve blocks away, Saturdays Surf brews a proprietary blend of La Colombe coffee and stocks its own in-house clothing label, Baxter grooming products, and surfboards. At Lost Weekend NYC, fashion and nightlife photographer Patrick McMullan’s edgy black and white photos decorate the walls, while at Saturdays Surf, photographs by Randall Mesdon and Rob Kulisek are on display—and for sale.
Josh Rosen, a co-owner of Saturdays Surf with a background in fashion, envisioned a store based around his and his friends’ lifestyle when they opened in 2009.
“The city was packed full of surfers, adventurers, packed full of people that didn’t have a brand that they could identify with,” Rosen said. “Once people get here they realize this is something they always wanted,” he said and added that the shop plans to open in additional locations.
Adam Rich, co-founder and editor-in-chief at Thrillist, an online men’s lifestyle guide, believes hybrid retail stores offer a competitive advantage for retailers in a highly competitive marketplace that includes e-commerce.
“It’s a best way for a brick-and-mortar to differentiate itself from and increase its competitive advantage over online merchants who might potentially be cheaper,” Rich said. “By enfolding additional experiential elements into their commerce experience they maximize the benefit of having the shopper there in person, sweetening the deal.”
Downtown’s exorbitant real estate prices can lead business owners to look for creative ways to maximize their profits. Bruce Schaeffer, founder and president of Franchise Valuations, Ltd., says that maximizing revenue per square foot is key and adding in different types of products can help businesses’ bottom line. “The rent is due no matter what,” he said.
Alexandra Adame, co-owner of The Dressing Room, agreed. “I think that having a multi-faceted business offers us a better, more reliable way to make money,” she said. “If clothing sales are not good, we can at least count on some bar sales to get us through, and vice versa.”
The Dressing Room opened its doors in 2007 with the aims of creating a store where customers can browse the racks featuring clothes from local designers and do so with a drink in hand, and creative types could come and hang out, watch an indie movie on the bar’s projector, or catch one of the occasional burlesque shows that the shop hosts, Adame said. Though the store’s layout seems to encourage drinkers to shop and shoppers to drink, Adame said that drunk shopping almost never happens. They do, however, have a $5 drink special for a beer and a shot called “The Waiting Boyfriend.”
At Lost Weekend NYC, Little says that the hybrid model is working. Customers who come in for coffee will frequently buy a bottle of shampoo or another product the store stocks, he said, though he has yet to sell any art. A few customers come specifically to buy a retail product, but usually coffee is the primary draw.
Cameron Moberg, a San Francisco native in town with his wife for his tenth wedding anniversary, thought so.
“You guys serve Blue Bottle here?” he asked after seeing Lost Weekend NYC’s placard outside. “Yes! New York has the worst coffee!” he exclaimed before he and his wife sat down for a cup. The shampoo waited patiently.